NORMAN — $2,000 award given annually
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Professor Emeritus of pediatrics Dr. Diane J. Willis is the inspiration for a new award from the American Psychological Foundation, named in her honor.
In the spirit of Dr. Willis’ more than 30-year career, the $2,000 award is an annual prize given to young psychologists exhibiting excellence in research, policy influence and professional development pertaining to pediatric psychology and family advocacy.
According to the APA website Willis was “instrumental” in forming the Division 37 Section for Child Maltreatment and was “the consummate advocate for children and families.”
“I was floored and very honored when they announced that they wanted to name the award after me,” Willis said. “I’d mentored some of the foundation members, and they cited that and my mentorship of students in Oklahoma for naming the award.”
The next recipient of the Diane J. Willis Award will be honored at a ceremony in Hawaii in July, with Dr. Willis attending.
“The vetting process turned out to be more competitive than anticipated. One winner will be selected from between 15 and 20 candidates,” Willis said. “It’s my hope that this spurs the young researchers on and encourages these psychologists to improve their work.”
In addition to forming Division 37, Dr. Willis also is responsible for the formation of the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12), Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (Division 53), the Society for Pediatric Psychology (Division 54) and the Child Study Center at OUHSC.
Division 54’s newsletter became the Journal of Pediatric Psychology under Willis’ leadership, and she has published many articles and co-edited books on the importance of using research to inform practice.
Dr. Willis also has worked hard to advocate child and family health at the state and national level, sharing research and clinical experiences with state legislators and voicing advocacy at national and international levels to enhance child care and minimize neglect.
“We certainly need to advance public understanding of mental health, if you look at just mental disorders in the U.S., the numbers for children and youth in drug use, depression and anxiety are quite high. We’re really not doing enough,” Willis said.
Of particular concern to Dr. Willis is early intervention and good health care for mothers of severe economic disadvantage. Herself a member of the Kiowa Tribe, Willis worked extensively with Native Americans on reservations.
“It’s a saving grace if we can get a very early head start on programs for children and families — start them out early,” Willis said. “When I worked on the reservations, we prioritized getting pregnant women in, getting them properly fed and providing good health care and maternity instruction. Just those things made a crucial difference.”
Prospective candidates must apply by Jan. 31. For more information on the award and eligibility criteria, visit www.apa.org and search Diane J. Willis Early Career Award.