Looking back, Dr. Chrystina Dolyniuk remembers how her parents, who had emigrated from Ukraine following World War II, kept their culture and language alive in their Los Angeles home. The family was active in the community’s school and church, and took a trip to Ukraine when Dolyniuk, now an associate professor of Psychology, was 21.
Today, Dolyniuk, a resident of Pennington, N.J., is still an active member of the Ukrainian-American community and speaks fluently in her parents’ native tongue. On the weekends, Dolyniuk, along with her husband and their two children, ages 4 and 7, visit the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Philadelphia. Only recently, though, has she been afforded the opportunity to blend her ancestral culture with her academic interests.
Dolyniuk has been selected for a Fulbright Specialists project at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, from July 4 through 17. There she will conduct guest lectures on autism and provide curricular and programmatic consultation to the University, which is expanding and developing its curricular offerings in psychology.
“It’s an amazing opportunity that meshes my personal background with my professional experience,” she explained.
As a specialist in learning disorders and developmental disabilities, Dolyniuk is engaged in applied community-based research that examines inclusion, perceptions and attitudes towards individuals with disabilities, social skills development and intervention, and cultural factors. For example, Dolyniuk, along with recent graduate Lisa Tremonte ’11, will present Exploring cultural barriers faced by Spanish-speaking families of children on the Autism Spectrum at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in August in Washington, D.C.
“I say in many of my classes that disabilities are an aspect of diversity, but we never think of it that way. It goes hand in hand with other aspects of diversity,” Dolyniuk said. “Factors such as culture, language and faith all impact how we perceive a disability.”
Dolyniuk is one of more than 400 academics and professionals from the United States who will travel abroad this year through the Fulbright Specialists Program, which provides short-term academic opportunities to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at post-secondary, academic institutions around the world. In her application, Dolyniuk highlighted her expertise in psychology and special education. Once she was placed on a roster, she began forming connections and discovered the opportunity in Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian Catholic University is expanding its own curricular offerings in psychology. They were looking for an academic who could help them develop those visions and that is the primary reason for my invitation,” she said.
At the same time, Dolyniuk has an opportunity to share her own knowledge of autism with faculty and specialists in the community.
“Educators there are learning more and more about different types of disabilities and they are recognizing the need to raise awareness,” she explained.
Dolyniuk said she applied for the Fulbright Specialists program in order to expand her knowledge of disabilities beyond the United States and Canada.
“I hope to gain a greater understanding of cultural factors and how services are provided by clinicians and specialists in another culture,” she said. “I plan to share what I learn with my students. Some of our psychology students are special education minors who might become specialists. Others are majors who might become clinical psychologists who work with children with disabilities. With the new Master of Arts in Applied Psychology program, we anticipate that many of our students will become autism interventionists. All of these students are likely to work with families from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Discussing the impact of culture with our students is very important.”