Commencement 19 Profile: Erin Engstrom mitigates barriers to success for individuals with Autism

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Erin Engstrom will graduate with a Ph.D. from the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology. We recently interviewed her about her internship at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she was getting specialized training in the assessment and treatment of individuals and families with developmental disabilities and comorbid mental health challenges. We caught up with her again before she walks across the Commencement stage this Friday.

GGSE: Share your research interests with us, and why they’re important to you.
My current research focuses on improving mental health and quality of life in young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Specifically, my dissertation focused on improving daily living skills in college students with ASD using a peer-mediated intervention. The results showed that using peer mentors to assist with daily living skills is effective and can positively impact other areas of a person’s life, like academic performance, mental health and adaptive behavior. I am passionate about this area because I saw how students with ASD here on our campus were not getting the type of supports they wanted or needed to be successful academically and personally. I believe that university campuses can and should do a better job of supporting the needs of a diverse student body, which includes students with developmental disabilities like ASD. I am hoping to build on this research to develop more individualized, comprehensive, and economically feasible support programs for students with ASD across universities.

GGSE: If you could give one piece of information that you wished every person knew and remembered from your research, what would it be?
I hope that my research shows that sometimes we need to think out of the box in terms of treatment for people with ASD. We don’t need to be highly specialized, doctoral level psychologists to serve this population, but with some tweaks and adjustments to our systems and approach to care, we can do so much better for this group of people who have many unrecognized strengths and talents.

GGSE: What do you hope to do after earning your Ph.D.?
Next year, I will be a postdoctoral fellow at JFK Partners at the University of Colorado School of Medicine/Children’s Hospital Colorado to continue my training and research in developing and disseminating interventions to improve mental health in children, teens and adults with ASD. After that, I’m hoping to become licensed and get a position as a psychologist at a university or academic medical center where I can continue serving teens and adults with ASD. I also want to continue to conduct research to improve and develop interventions and service systems to better fit this population’s needs. I am also hoping to serve as a supervisor and mentor to other graduate students in clinical psychology and hopefully train the next generation of psychologists serving people with developmental disabilities!

GGSE: What piece of advice would you pass on to future graduate students in the Gevirtz School?
I hope that graduate students remember that they are intelligent, talented and hardworking people who deserve to be here. Our success as graduate students can be closely tied to our self-worth, so learning resilience in the face of inevitable academic failures is not for the faint of heart. The struggles we face are just a normal part of our process, so have compassion for yourself and the students around you. Netflix helps too. 

GGSE: Is there anyone in the Gevirtz School you would like to thank?
I am incredibly grateful for the support and mentorship by my advisors, Drs. Bob Koegel and Ty Vernon. They took a chance on me and made this whole PhD thing possible for me in the first place! I also could not have made it this far without the friends I have made in CCSP. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be amongst such compassionate and hardworking people, but they have become my family and have kept me afloat these past 5 years!