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Psychology Department

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Kirk Legacy

While studying psychology at Marist College, you may have noticed several mentions of Dr. Daniel Kirk. For example, the department gives an award at graduation called the Dan Kirk Award. In addition, the Kirk Lecture Fund supports presentations on innovative psychological treatments and issues relevant to community mental health. Also, a room in the Marist Cannavino Library is called the Dan Kirk Reading Room, which was, in part, funded by Dr. Kirk. Finally, there's the Chaplain's Residence, called the Kirk House which originally was the home Dan built on campus for his parents. It was donated to Marist after he died. Have you ever wondered who is Dan Kirk, what are the criteria for the graduation award, and what is the purpose of the Kirk Lecture? In the following paragraphs, Dan's life and accomplishments are discussed, and then the graduation award and lecture fund are described.

Dr. Dan Kirk started teaching psychology at Marist College in 1957. He founded the undergraduate Psychology Department in 1962 and the first graduate program here in 1972. One of the pioneers in the field of community psychology, Dan was asked to provide the description of community psychology for the Encyclopedia of Psychology. Dr. Kirk also initiated the first required undergraduate internship program in psychology, and presented this very innovative, and at the time controversial, concept at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association more than 40 years ago. In 1980 he developed the first Five-Year Combined BA/MA Program in Psychology in the nation, a program that has served as a model for other similar programs at the College and elsewhere. In the 1980s, Dan donated funds to establish the Kirk Endowment for the library, and in honor of his parents, the Sabina and Daniel Kirk Lecture Fund. Dr. Kirk was in the process of developing a doctoral program in psychology at Marist at the time of his death in 1984.

Dr. Dan Kirk was one of the first academics to become involved in the local community during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was a member of the group that advocated for low-income housing in Poughkeepsie resulting in the development of the Martin Luther King, Jr., apartment complex in Poughkeepsie. He marched with the Berrigan brothers in opposition to the Viet Nam War, and he consulted with Cesar Chavez in the development of the United Farm Workers' union. He urged Marist College to donate part of its campus to Dutchess County to build the County Mental Health Center. Dan invited numerous nationally known psychologists to speak at Marist, perhaps most notably, Dr. Timothy Leary of Harvard who presented on the use of consciousness-expanding drugs to aid in having a mystical experience. Considering that Marist was a Catholic institution at the time, inviting Dr. Leary demonstrated Dan's courage and his "out of the box" thinking. Before de-institutionalization became a national priority, Dan advocated for the needs of those with developmental disabilities, and helped to ensure that the County include a school to be operated by Rehabilitation Programs Inc. (now Abilities First) in its plans for the mental health center. He served on the boards of many local agencies that serviced those with disabilities, merging his academic and civic interests. In 1974, Dr. Kirk organized the first Marist College Conference on Retardation and presented a landmark research study on the prevalence of mental retardation in Dutchess County. This study, based on a census of all county residents, found the prevalence of this disability differed by a factor of six times from the estimate New York State had been using, and since then this report has significantly affected the types of services offered to this population.

Daniel Kirk came to the Hudson Valley when he entered the Marist Brothers in 1945. He graduated from Marist College in 1950, and went on to earn his master's and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from St. John's University. After teaching in various high schools, he returned to Marist in 1957. Dan affected the character of the College in many significant ways. When Marist considered expanding its role to accept non-religious (lay) students, he was asked to conduct a survey of local high schools to learn whether the College's enrollment objective of 150 first-year students could be met by commuters. The results indicated Marist would need to establish residence halls and the first resident students were accepted in 1959. Dan also served as acting president of the College in 1961. He continued to teach at Marist until his untimely death from melanoma in 1984. At St. John's, Dan discovered the work of David P. Ausubel, PhD, MD who had developed a non-Freudian ego-based theory of personality. In 1976 Dr. Kirk collaborated with Dr. Ausubel to revise the theory and book describing the process by which a child initially "satellizes" around the parents and then "de-satellizes" during adolescence. Though he separated from the Brothers in 1968, he continued to characterize the spirit of the Marist Brothers and of its founder, St. Marcellin Champagnat.

Perhaps most important, Dan was known as a caring mentor and challenging educator to his students, a true friend to his faculty colleagues, and a force for change in the Marist College community.

(The author thanks current members of the Marist psychology faculty for their feedback on earlier versions of this biography, and gives special thanks to retired faculty and staff, specifically, Professor Augustine Nolan, Drs. Edward O'Keefe, Marjorie Schratz, William Eidle, and former President Richard Foy for their suggestions, contributions and comments to the essay.) -- John Scileppi, PhD

The Dan Kirk Award for Excellence in Graduate Psychology

Annually, the Marist Psychology Department confers the Dan Kirk Award to the student graduating from the graduate program who most exemplifies the ideals formulated by Dr. Daniel Kirk, founder of our program. The recipient demonstrates excellence both in course work and the application of psychological skills in a community setting, with the prospect of furthering those contributions through future work in the profession. In giving this award, the psychology faculty believes the recipient will continue to demonstrate the Marist tradition of service to the community.

Recent recipients of this award include:

  • 2012: Taraneh K. Waghizadeh
  • 2011: Raya Noreault
  • 2010: Suzanne Williams Acosta

The Daniel and Sabina Kirk Lecture Fund

In his will, in honor of his parents, Daniel and Sabina Kirk, Dr. Kirk left a large sum of money to the College with the express intention of bringing to the college and local professional community significant experts in fields broadly related to community psychology. These experts present on new perspectives and methods that can enable students, faculty, and mental health professionals in the community to better serve populations in need through either prevention or treatment. In choosing the Kirk Lecturer, the coordinator of the fund can propose the speaker or can collaborate with other community agencies to jointly sponsor the speaker. The coordinator typically polls the psychology faculty during this selection process.

Recent Kirk Lecturers (listed in alphabetical order) have included:

  • Peter Breggin, MD, author of Toxic Psychiatry (this talk was co-sponsored with the Hudson Valley Psychological Association).
  • Michael Fowlin, PhD, expert on prevention of bullying in schools and discrimination (in collaboration with Mental Health America of Dutchess County).
  • James Garbarino, PhD, author and expert on preventing youth violence (in collaboration with the Astor Program Services).
  • Harold Gordon, PhD, Colleague of Nobel Prize winner Roger Sperry and expert on neuropsychological assessments of cognitive functioning and learning.
  • Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author and expert on campus and school safety (in collaboration with numerous local criminal justice and mental health agencies).
  • Jack Kamins, PsyD, former president of the New York Association of School Psychologists and member of the Executive Board of the National Association of School Psychologists and expert on school and community psychology.
  • Riet Kroeze, representative of MedAir, an international organization that provides psycho-social rehabilitation services to populations affected by natural disasters and war.
  • Murray Levine, PhD, director of the doctoral program in clinical/community psychology at SUNY Buffalo and author of numerous books on community psychology.
  • Patricia Pine, PhD, former director of the NYS Office of the Aging and expert on gerontology.
  • Belisa Lozano-Vranich, PsyD, author and expert on cultural competence and mental health professionals (in collaboration with the Mental Health Association in Dutchess County).