Rider graduate student wins national school psychologists award

Helizhabeth Cabrera received the Deborah Peek Crockett Minority Scholarship Award
Alexa Caplinger ’16
Helizhabeth Cabrera

Helizhabeth Cabrera, a graduate student studying school psychology at Rider

Helizhabeth Cabrera, a graduate student studying school psychology, recently won the prestigious National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Deborah Peek Crockett Minority Scholarship Award. This award brings Cabrera, Rider and particularly the school psychology program national visibility. She was honored at the National Association of School Psychologist’s Annual Convention in New Orleans in February.

"I was called by the founder of the award, Deborah Crockett," says Cabrera. "I missed her phone call and her voicemail was very vague. When I called her back, she told me I won and I was completely surprised. I made a trip to Maryland the last day of submission to hand in my application documents. It was relieving to know it paid off. I was very happy to hear that they enjoyed my essay because it was very personal."

NASP awards recognize individuals who exemplify professional excellence in school psychology or support the mission of the profession in a significant way. In honoring these individuals, NASP seeks to celebrate their success, contributions to their profession and efforts to improve outcomes for children, families and schools.

"Helizhabeth's receipt of the NASP Minority scholarship is quite an honor," says Dr. Stefan Dombrowski, professor and director of the school psychology program. "She was competing against graduate students from across the country and was selected for this award due to her potential to improve the field and contribute to the lives of children. It is a testament not only to Helizahabeth, but also to the quality of students that are attracted by our school psychology program."

The NASP Minority Scholarship program was established in 1995 to support the graduate training of minority students pursuing careers in school psychology. The program seeks to lower financial barriers to training and to highlight the accomplishments of promising future professionals. It advances NASP's commitment to diversity in the field of school psychology by supporting culturally diverse graduate students who will eventually provide school-based services to diverse student populations.

"I'm very excited to start my career as a school psychologist and I'm passionate about it," Cabrera says. "In addition, I could not contain myself over winning a scholarship that will relieve some stress about going on a non-paid, full-time internship in September. They also helped me travel to New Orleans for their annual convention so I could accept my award there. It was definitely an overwhelming experience."

This is the second time in the past eight years that a Rider student or alumnus has received a national award from NASP. One of the most prestigious was the School Psychologist of the Year award granted to John Lestino ’82, who beat out every other school psychologist in the country. There are upwards of 50,000 school psychologists around the country.

Cabrera will start her third year in the program come September and she will be starting her internship in school psychology.  

"I am hoping to get a full-time school psychologist position in an urban district," says Cabrera. "I really enjoy working with Spanish-speaking families that would need my help understanding the school system and advocating for their child. I'm also hoping to obtain a doctorate degree soon after graduation."

Rider University's school psychology program is one of only five specialist level programs in New Jersey to be fully approved by NASP, preparing students to become certified school psychologists at the state and national level. The 67-credit degree program offers a blend of traditional and contemporary training and innovating practica that result in graduates being actively recruited by employers.

"The school psychology program is justifiably proud of Helizahabeth, its students and alumni, and the program's presence as one of the best school psychology programs in the country," says Dombrowski. "The program's students are actively sought after by employers, program faculty are regarded internationally for their research contributions, and alumni have gone on to win prestigious awards and assume leadership positions in the field. Helizahabeth's receipt of this nationally competitive award continues the legacy of accomplishment of Rider's graduate program in school psychology."  

In addition to Dombrowski, Cabrera says Dr. Karen Gischlar, associate professor in the Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, & Counseling, has particularly helped her succeed. "They are very knowledgeable and have been great resources for every aspect of my academic and professional career," she says. "I would not be where I am without their guidance and support. They push me when I need it and I'm so grateful."