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Professor is Awarded Grant to Study Mental Illness in Adolescents and Young Adults
Gwendolyn Singleton, chair of FAMU’s Department of Psychology, (left) meets with Huijun Li to discuss Li’s research regarding mental illness in adolescents and young adults.

April 11, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla
. – It seems everyone wants to know why Huijun Li left Harvard University for Florida A&M University to continue her research on mental illness. When asked why she chose to leave the Ivy League institution after four years to work at an historically black college and university, she chuckles, “I get asked that question a lot.” Then, immediately her voice steadies and in a more serious tone she explains the decision as a choice between faculty.

“The research focus of the faculty members in the FAMU psychology department matched my interests,” said Li.  “So, it is relatively easier for me to build research collaborations here compared to Harvard.”

In fact, she enthusiastically expresses how supportive faculty have been since she arrived in Tallahassee three months ago.

“From the teaching, researchand the resources…I think it was a very good choice for me to come to FAMU.”

Gwendolyn Singleton shares Li’s enthusiasm.

“We are doing our very best to help Dr. Li adapt to life on the Hill,” said Singleton, psychology department chair. “Her research is extremely important to our efforts to gain additional insights on mental health disparities in the creation of innovative culture-specific interventions for the treatment of mental illness.”

Last year, Li was a full-time researcher at the Harvard University Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center conducting multicultural competence training seminars and clinical studies that promote diversity in health-related research. She was also a psychiatry instuctor in the Harvard Medical School. Today, her time is split between teaching two classes as an assistant professor of psychology and conducting new research at FAMU under a $250,000 grant funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The study, “Broadening the Investigation of Prodromal Psychosis to Different Cultural Groups” examines mental health disparity issues among adolescents and youth on an international domain. During the next two years, FAMU will collaborate with the Shangai Mental Health Center in Mainlaind China and Harvard Medical School to build research capacity in a low-middle income country.

“We chose China as the study population because 30 percent of its 3.1 billion inhabitants are between the ages of 15 and 35,” said Li. “Adolescents and young adults are the most vulnerable to mental health issues, especially psychotic disorders.”

China is also Li’s homeland. She grew up in the province of Hebei and received a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Kunming University of Science and Technology. After teaching English as a second language for 10 years, Li became increasingly interested in pursuing a career in psychology, a field she says was very minimal in China just 15 years ago in terms of scope.  She has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Arizona.

“Mental health is very critical to the country and the world,” said Li. “It is my professional goal to infuse my passion and dedication to this field within the communities that I serve and to those in need.”

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