Alumni Keynote Speaker: Polo DeCano
"Do it--major in psychology. Your opportunities will be so wide open afterward. This education prepares you to work with people, and--last I checked--they are in every job sector out there."
- Polo DeCano on "why major in psychology?"
Policarpio (Polo) DeCano earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2002. A few years and a few adventures later, Polo returned to UW where he is nearing completion of a Ph.D. in School Psychology from the College of Education. This June we were delighted to welcome him as our first alumni keynote speaker at the Psychology Graduation Celebration.
Never one to take the typically prescribed or highly linear path, even his time as an undergraduate in the Psychology major was, shall we say, a bit outside of the box. "My experience as an undergraduate was a bit of a blur," Polo recalls, "because I navigated through the program in a bit of an unorthodox manner." Recalling that time, Polo credits some key Psychology faculty members with helping him to eventually become the scholar and the person he is today. He notes that Professors Liliana Lengua, Ron Smith, and Frank Smoll, as well as then graduate student Nicki Bush Duffy and post-doctoral fellow Sean Cumming were true role models. He also remembers advisor Carrie Perrin as having provided some degree of safe harbor in what was sometimes a turbulent ride. "Carrie's door was always open," remembers Polo, "and I felt like I had someone who truly knew me and cared for my success even though my academic decision-making was a little erratic and unpredictable."
His own experiences as an undergraduate have, even beyond the knowledge gained, come to inform his current work and scholarship. The School Psychology program in the UW College of Education has given him the opportunity to hone in on ways to develop and promote the delivery of education, skills, and strategies to young people to support their academic and social-emotional development. The aim is to foster in young people the skills and tools needed to navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise. While a graduate student, Polo has taught an "Introduction to Resilience" course to undergraduates as well as a "Team and Athlete Wellness" class to aspiring collegiate coaches.
Polo's initial interest in psychology centered around how biological, cognitive, and experiential aspects of an individual's life shape their experience and who they are as a person. For Polo, there was definitely a big emphasis on the experiential. In particular, he credits his work as an undergraduate research assistant as having been especially important in his development. "I learned interpersonal and professional skills and was exposed to research," says Polo, "and, collectively, these elements provided me with lasting and meaningful experiences that prepared me for graduate work and consultation with others."
Learning by doing--sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding--with an emphasis on how one experiences and grows from both the successes and the failures is really the hallmark of Polo's approach to life, work, and what he brings to others.