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SPSSI 2012 Distinguished Service Awards

At SPSSI’s Biennial Conference in June, we were delighted to recognize Dr. Virginia O’Leary, Dr. Susan Opotow, Dr. Marybeth Shinn, and Dr. Greg Wilmoth with the SPSSI Distinguished Service Award for 2012. As the committee noted, “We recognize these individuals with the SPSSI Distinguished Service Award with gratitude, and with deep appreciation for the scope of their service to our organization and its impact to science, and to public policy at the local and national levels. We are the fortunate recipients of their energy and commitment to the basic tenets of SPSSI.”

The 2012 Distinguished Service Award Selection Committee members were Drs.Dan Perlman (Chair), Barbara Gutek, and Bernice Lott. The following Distinguished Service Award citations were compiled by Dan Perlman. 

   Virginia O’Leary

Virginia O’Leary received her Ph.D. at Wayne State University in 1969. She was Assistant and Associate Professor of Psychology at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan. After that, she held the position of Deputy Executive Officer for Public Affairs at the American Psychological Association, followed by serving as Professor and Chair in the Department of Psychology at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana. Despite the fact that she had a very difficult time thinking of herself as an Alabaman, she moved to Auburn University in 1994 where she was also professor and chair of the psychology department. She retired and became Professor Emerita in 2006.

Ginny O’Leary was President of SPSSI in 1994-1995 and served on Council from 1978-1980 and again from 1981-1983. Her service for SPSSI started in 1978 when she was elected to Council and served on SPSSI’s Courtwatch Committee. She has variously served on a plethora of SPSSI standing and ad-hoc committees, including: SPSSI Nominations for APA Boards and Committees, the APA Program Committee, the James Marshall Oversight and Search Committee, the SPI (Scientist in the Public Interest) Search Committee, and Ad-Hoc Committee on Public Information, the Committee on Media Coverage of Social Issues, the Elections Committee, and the Expert Bank Oversight Committee. When she was President-Elect in 1993, SPSSI Council approved a motion that the

Task Force on International Issues and the UN become a SPSSI Committee of the same name with permanent standing. Even with all of that, I may have missed a few of her activities for SPSSI. Incidentally, Ginny was President when SPSSI held its first stand-alone convention in Ann Arbor in 1996, the year SPSSI celebrated its 60th birthday.

Ginny is a Fellow in the Association of Psychological Science and in the American Psychological Association, Divisions 9, 35, 45, and 46. She was President of Division 35 in 1986-1987. In 1990, she received the APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology, Leadership Citation Award. In 2004, she received the Auburn University Presidential Award of Excellence.

Though she became Professor Emerita in 2006, Ginny hasn’t really retired. Having directed an East/West Conference on Health and Well-Being in Kathmandu, Nepal in March 2001, she received a Fulbright to go to Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu in 2005. She had found a new love. So she flew to Kathmandu and talked to the Vice Chancellor of Kathmandu University and from 2007-2009, she taught there for six months. She learned Nepali, but also discovered that the Nepali culture has some negative features. She is working on a book tentatively titled, Dancing with Despair: Enchanted, Disappointed and Disillusioned in the Developing World.

Ginny is now back in Massachusetts, doing something else that has pervaded her life: being involved with politics—in this case, the upcoming national election. As a college student she marched for peace in Washington, DC and tutored underprivileged youths in Pittsburgh. As a graduate student, she was actively involved with Civil Rights issues and has always been a strong supporter of women’s rights. For her many activities, it is fitting that we recognize Virginia O’Leary with the SPSSI Distinguished Service Award. 

   Susan Opotow

Susan Opotow is a glowing model of a social psychologist whose entire career has been characterized by engagement in the study of social issues and the advancement of social justice. From a BA earned at Antioch College, and a PhD at Columbia, followed by years of committed research, teaching, advocacy, and service, she is now a professor of Sociology at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a professor in the CUNY Graduate Center’s doctoral program in criminal justice and social and personality psychology.

Susan’s scholarly work has focused on issues relevant to peace, conflict, ethics, and injustice. Within this body of work, her writing on moral exclusion will continue to rank among the truly most significant contributions to the social science literature on inter-group relations and the intersections of conflict, morality, and oppression. There is brilliant simplicity and immense complexity in her thesis that seeing others as outside the ordinary scope of justice (i.e., moral exclusion) is a prime correlate of discrimination, exploitation, hate, and violence directed toward these “others.” She is concerned not only with the antecedents, process, and consequences of moral exclusion but also with those of moral inclusion and the promotion of social justice.

The many honors that Susan has received include three that serve to illustrate the scope of her engagement as a SPSSI exemplar. The University of Massachusetts bestowed on her its President’s Public Service Award in 2003; in 2008 she received the Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award from APA’s Division 48; and John Jay College honored her with a 2009–2010 Faculty Scholarly Excellence Award. She currently serves as the editor of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology.

Susan has served SPSSI with grace and intelligence, love and commitment over many years in a wide variety of capacities, each one reflecting different aspects of her interests and skills. Among these specific contributions to SPSSI governance, smooth functioning, and effectiveness are her editorship of the Newsletter for three years in the early 90s and her two terms on SPSSI Council. Her role as liaison to two significant groups illustrate the unique breadth of SPSSI interests and concerns and Susan’s active involvement with them—the United Nations in New York, and the informal but powerful rump APA group, originally called the Committee of Eight, and now the Divisions of Social Justice. And, of course, Susan helped to organize and plan some of the extraordinary events that were part of SPSSI’s 75th anniversary celebration.

Susan Opotow radiates the SPSSI spirit and incorporates SPSSI values and concerns in all she does in her professional life. One important example is her role in organizing a conference at her college in 2008 on The Interrogation and Torture Controversy: Crisis in Psychology, at which APA critics and non-critics presented and interacted. It is clearly an honor and a joy to present to Susan this 2012 SPSSI award for her distinguished service to the organization and to the issues that are as salient today as in SPSSI’s proud history. 

   Marybeth (Beth) Shinn

Beth Shinn is a distinguished SPSSI member whose contributions have done so much for SPSSI and for the profession of psychology. Her special talents were obvious early in her adulthood when she was chosen as Radcliffe College’s most promising senior. Today, Beth is recognized as an innovative social scientist, an outstanding teacher, a very effective administrator, and a persuasive policy advocate. Throughout her career, she has been a highly principled person with a strong moral compass who—via both her actions and her judicious, clear voice—has fostered social justice and human welfare.

Beth completed her PhD in community and social psychology at Michigan, then joined the faculty at New York University. She remained there until 2008 when she moved to Vanderbilt University. Over the years, Beth has been a Russell Sage Postdoctoral Fellow, and a visiting scholar or faculty member at the Instituto Superior do Psicologia in Portugal, the National Institute for the Study of Demography in France, and the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley.

An overarching theme of Beth’s research is on social settings and the individuals in them: the measurement of settings, how they influence behavior, and how they can be changed. Arguably the centerpiece of her research has been on homelessness. She has tackled the thorny issue of how to measure it, analyzed its antecedents, assessed interventions to alleviate homelessness and recommended ways to help those who are homeless. Beyond her research, she has been an expert witness, a faculty member for Policy Academies to better inform state officials, a member of the Research Advisory Panel for the New York City Department of Homeless Services, author of a report on homeless children for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and author of a pamphlet for the National Alliance for Ending Homelessness (a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to ending homelessness).

Beth has received numerous awards during her career including teaching awards at the Departmental and College level at NYU, the Ethnic/Minority Mentoring Award from the Society of Community Research and Action, the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Theory and Research from the Society of Community Research and Action, and the Social Policy Edited Book Award from the Society for Research on Adolescence.

Beth has contributed to SPSSI in many ways over many years. Her first major involvement was editing a 1981 JSI issue on institutions such as mental hospitals and their alternatives while she was still an assistant professor. A regular flow of JSI articles followed. In 1990 she edited her influential JSI collection on homelessness. From 1996 through 1999 she served on SPSSI Council. In 2005, she was SPSSI’s President. In 2010 she gave an excellent Biennial Conference keynote address on poverty, social exclusion, and homelessness.

During her Presidency, Beth championed a member survey that showed the high priority SPSSI members assigned to national level policy advocacy. A focal issue during Beth’s Presidency was the APA’s lack of response to the torturous treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Beth resigned from APA in 2007 “because the American Psychological Association continues to condone psychologists’ work in detention centers that violate international law and because of actions by APA’s leadership to discourage dissent from its policies in this matter.” SPSSI recognizes Beth Shinn with its Distinguished Service Award with deepest gratitude. 


   Gregory Wilmoth


Greg Wilmoth is a SPSSI “honest broker” par excellence. Consistent with an earlier phrasing of SPSSI’s mission statement, Greg is a person whose career has been dedicated to obtaining and disseminating factual data regarding social change and other social processes through the promotion of psychological research on significant questions of social life. He has fostered the application of those findings to the problems of society. In doing so, he has been a neutral, objective scientist capable of not taking sides over competing ideologies but providing key information to better inform decision-making.

Greg received his PhD in social psychology from the University of Florida in 1980. From 1980 until 1987, he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland where he taught organizational assessment and evaluation. In 1987 he became SPSSI’s second Public Policy Fellow. He was the first Fellow to be housed in the American Psychological Association offices, where he worked on a number of issues, including fostering a U.S. Peace Academy.

After being SPSSI’s Policy Fellow, Greg moved to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO; an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress), where he held senior scientific and administrative roles including Assistant Director.

Within the GAO, Greg has focused on human resources policies and practices, in part developing a unique database of the histories of American workers. Many of his contributions can be clustered under the heading of public policy and public administration. For example, in 2011 he reported on whether the Environmental Protection Agency was living up to its mission, whether lobbyists were following disclosure rules, and the use of key indicator system. A search of the GAO web site shows he has contributed to 109 reports on such SPSSI topics as the gender gap in salaries, fostering the hiring of older workers, increasing the hiring of individuals with disabilities, and protecting the environment.

Within SPSSI, Greg has been a member of Council and held several other roles. These include: co-chairing 1988 Social Issues Conference; chairing SPSSI’s Liaison Committee with the Office of Public Legislation, SPSSI’s Public Interest Psychologists, SPSSI’s Washington D.C. Regional Group, and SPSSI’s Conflict of Interest Task Force; being a member of the JSI editorial board, the SPSSI U.N. Non-governmental Organization Representative, and serving on SPSSI’s James Marshall Public Policy Fellow Oversight and Search Committee for nearly 20 years.

Greg has also contributed to SPSSI’s publications, articulating the honest broker role in an ASAP article and editing a highly regarded JSI issue on abortion. Greg’s introduction to the abortion issue was a tour de force. He insightfully analyzed the research questions associated with pro-life and pro-choice political positions. His methodological acumen shone through in his critique of how well (or poorly) the extant studies of abortion answered those questions. He pointed to the research still needing to be done before women could be accurately given information on the risks of abortion as mandated by some states. Complementing his JSI issue, on behalf of SPSSI, Greg prepared and presented testimony on the consequences of abortion to the U. S. Surgeon General’s office. 

In addition to his long history with SPSSI, Greg has also been deeply involved in the Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology. He served as president of that group in 2004-05 and was elected for two terms as that Division’s representative to APA Council during which time he partnered with SPSSI in advancing mutual interests. We recognize Greg Wilmoth with the SPSSI Distinguished Service Award with deep appreciation for the scope of his service to our organization, and his exemplary contributions as a social scientist for 25 plus years playing an honest broker role in the formation of U.S. public policy.


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