Alumni News

Michael G. Wessells 73 MA, 74 PhD Receives Distinguished Alumni Award

Michael Wessells ’73 MA, ’74 PhD is a professor of clinical population and family health in the Program on Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University. His work emphasizes the resilience of children, families, and communities and the impact of distress due to armed conflict, disasters, family separation, and deprivation of basic needs such as food, shelter, and security.

Wessells’ current research examines what communities themselves do to protect children, promotes sustainable social change, and challenges the emphasis globally on NGO- and outsider-led approaches. 

In addition to research and teaching, global humanitarian work is a central life calling for Wessells. For several decades, he has focused on psychosocial and child protection supports for war-affected children primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He has worked to highlight the importance of community mobilization building on existing strengths and resources, including traditional practices and working in a spirit of humility and co-learning. 

Wessells worked extensively on the reintegration of former child soldiers, whose primary challenges often relate to stigma, lack of livelihoods, and spiritual issues such as being 'haunted' by the spirits of the dead. In all this work, he encouraged an ethical orientation of patient accompaniment, active listening, and enabling the agency of war-affected children. 

Believing that psychology has much to contribute to peace and social justice, he helped to establish and served as president of the Division of Peace Psychology in the American Psychological Association. He also served as president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and chair of the Committee for the Psychological Study of Peace, which develops scholarly symposia worldwide and brings in the voices and work of people in difficult political and economic circumstances. 

Along with the World Health Organization, Wessells coordinated the development of the first global guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings. In a deeply polarized field, this work helped to develop a more comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to supporting war-affected people. A legacy of this work is that today, mental health and psychosocial supports are seen not as afterthoughts but as central to humanitarian action. 

Wessells earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology from UMass Amherst, where his supervisor, John Donahoe, nurtured an enduring interest in science, a keen appreciation of environmental determinants of behavior, and a love of teaching.

UMass Amherst Alumni Association. (2017, April). Distinguished Alumni Awards. Retrieved from

Blaustein Featured on National Public Radio

Jeffrey D. Blaustein, psychological and brain sciences, is featured on National Public Radio show "The Academic Minute" where he talks about the pros and cons of estrogen blockers for treatment of breast cancer and what women should know about this type of treatment. He says it is important for women to know that estrogens have many effects on the human body, and some of those have a significant impact on quality of life. (The Academic Minute, Inside Higher Ed, 12/20/16).


Blaustein and Dasgupta honored at Twelfth Annual Faculty Convocation

Jeffrey D. Blaustein and Nilanjana Dasgupta, both from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Andrea R. Nahmod, Mathematics and Statistics are three of eight nationally acclaimed faculty members presented with the 2016 Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity during the Twelfth Annual Faculty Convocation on September 30.


Jeff BlausteinJeffrey D. Blaustein

Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Widely recognized as an expert on the influences of hormones on the brain, Jeffrey D. Blaustein has spent nearly his entire career at UMass Amherst. He studies the cellular processes by which estrogens and progestins act in the brain to influence behavior, mental health, and cognitive function. Blaustein is currently developing tools to help better explain to oncologists and breast cancer survivors the important role that estrogens play in the brain, so that patients can make informed decisions about breast cancer treatments that block estrogens.

Blaustein has served as president of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology and during the past few years, has been invited to give keynote and plenary addresses in Chile, Mexico, Italy, and Miami. He has contributed numerous chapters to major compilations and articles to major journals. Blaustein served a five-year term as editor-in-chief of Endocrinology, the journal of the Endocrine Society, and was chosen by the Society for Neuroscience to be a reviewing editor of eNeuro, its new open-access journal.

Blaustein has also served on the editorial boards of all the major journals in his field and on numerous grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health. He was recently asked to write a blog for the American Cancer Society on the effects of hormones and antihormone treatments in breast cancer survivors.

Education: BS, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1973; MS, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1975; PhD, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1977.


Nilanjana Dasgupta​Nilanjana Dasgupta

​Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

A professor and the director of faculty equity and inclusion for the College of Natural Sciences, Nilanjana Dasgupta conducts seminal research on implicit bias, translating scientific research to inform such social problems as bias against racial and ethnic minorities, lesbians and gay men, employment discrimination, educational disparities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the professional underrepresentation of women and racial minorities in STEM fields. She has twice been invited to the White House to present her findings on STEM education. During her recent distinguished lecture at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Va., Dasgupta spoke of how to prevent girls and young women from leaving careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Since the beginning of her career, Dasgupta’s research has been funded by the NSF and the National Institutes of Health, amounting to approximately $4 million in grant support to date. Her research findings have been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, BBC Radio (U.K.), National Public Radio, PBS News Hour, Scientific American Mind,, ABC News, and many other popular news outlets.

Dasgupta has held leadership positions in several international societies in social psychology and is the 2017 incoming president of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology. She also serves on the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.

Education: AB, Smith College, 1992; MS, Yale University, 1994; MPhil, Yale University, 1996; PhD, Yale University, 1998.

For more information on the Twelfth Annual Faculty Convocation award recipients, visit

Miriam DeFant is now Project Director for the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program

Miriam DeFant '89 PhD, is the newly appointed Project Director for the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience (STAR) Program at Clinical and Support Options, Inc. Miriam is currently the director of CSO's Psychological Assessment Services, In-Home Behavioral Services, and the Center for Professional and Community Education (CPCE).

The STAR Program is funded through a multimillion dollar, multi-year SAMHSA grant for a Category III Community Treatment and Service Center. The STAR Program will be a node in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. This new trauma program will focus on the ARC (Attachment, Regulation, and Competency) Framework for treatment of youth with complex trauma. The ARC Framework is an emerging evidence-based practice model that has been successfully applied in outpatient clinics, residential treatment centers, schools, shelters, day programs, youth drop-in centers, domestic violence programs, foster care, and juvenile justice programs, and other systems of care. The STAR Program's goals include providing both specialized trauma treatment and also specialized training to systems of care throughout Western Massachusetts.

Jeffrey Skowron is now Vice President of Diagnostic and Assessment Services for Beacon ABA Services

Jeffrey Skowron '00 PhD, is now Vice President of Diagnostic and Assessment Services for Beacon ABA Services with offices in Sunderland MA and West Springfield MA. Jeffery provides autism spectrum disorder evaluations for children ages 4 and younger, as well as home and school-based consultation for children with ASD and other special education needs.

Additionally, he teaches/ has taught graduate courses in behavior analysis and mental health counseling at Cambridge College and Westfield State University. Currently Jeffrey lives in Florence, MA, with his wife and two children. He still enjoys going to UMass hockey games.

Richard Ginsburg hired as Director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox

Richard Ginsburg '98 PhD, has been hired by the Boston Red Sox as Director of the Behavioral Health Program.  In this role he oversees the behavioral health needs of the major league players in Boston as well as the minor league players elsewhere in the country

 In addition to his role with the Red Sox, Dr. Ginsburg serves as Co-Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology, as director of the MGH Child and Adolescent Group Psychotherapy Program, and director of the Psychological Services at the MGH Youth Concussion Clinic.  He is an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School.

Edward O'Brien '80 PhD awarded the 2012 Distinguished Contributions to the Science and Profession of Psychology

Edward O'Brien '80 PhD is the 2012 recipient of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's "Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science and Profession of Psychology." The award is given once a year to a "Pennsylvania psychologist for outstanding and/or professional achievement in areas of expertise related to psychology, including teaching, research, clinical work, and publications."

Dr. O’Brien was a graduate student in the clinical program at UMass and graduated in 1980.  Dr. O’Brien will soon be completing his 29th year as a faculty member at Marywood University in Scranton, PA . He has served as department chair from 1995-2008 during which time they developed an APA accredited Psy.D. program in clinical psychology. 

“I have many fond memories of my time in Amherst and the training I received at UMass provided an excellent foundation for later successes in my career.  I am still in occasional contact with faculty in the program and fellow graduates and follow with interest the many successes Psychology at UMass."