May 2018 Spotlight- Special Edition- Mary Spencer, Ph.D.

To celebrate the the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, we are featuring four scholars whose work has contributed to the advancement of research, policy, and/or practice on Asians, Asian Americans, or Pacific Islanders.

Dr. Mary Spencer ( is Dean Emerita of College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences and is a retired professor of Psychology and Micronesian Studies at University of Guam.


1. What drew you to work with Asian/Pacific Islander children and families?

Throughout my training at the University of Kansas and the University of New Mexico, and in my research in California, Hawaii, and the Micronesian region, I have had opportunities to live and work in multi-ethnic/multi-racial environments. In California, I conducted many program evaluations and consultancies for the California State Department of Education with bilingual education programs. This included Asian, Native American, and Hispanic communities. I also directed a contract to recruit women and minority applicants for the San Francisco Police Department, as part of a federal Consent Decree, which involved a close working association with the Chinese for Affirmative Action organization. Language, culture, and assessment were common themes in these endeavors. The bilingual education work led to an opportunity to go to Guam to teach summer school courses in 1982 and to collaborate with a group of Micronesian linguistic and education scholars from many different places in the region. When the University of Guam was awarded a large federal contract for a Multifunctional Resource Center in 1984, I joined the University’s Psychology Program on a permanent faculty basis, leading to language, education, and social research with the Asian and Micronesian children and families of Guam and the Micronesian region.

2. What thoughts or advice do you have for junior scholars who are building upon your seminal work?

Develop a strong repertoire of both quantitative and qualitative skills that will allow you to work on topics across a range of world communities and across-disciplines; allowing you to conduct research in the humble non-technological communities of the world as well as in sophisticated laboratories. Develop and practice the personal qualities that give you the impulse to be collegial and collaborative in your work environments, and insightful and empathetic in your research with multiple communities. Develop justifiable confidence in yourself and double-check your righteousness. Find ways to develop international experience; e.g., study abroad programs, or assisting faculty with research in Asian and Pacific Island communities. Read a lot. Reach out to faculty doing research on Asian and Pacific Island issues and volunteer your assistance. Write a lot.

3. Describe your work’s importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other [understudied?] populations; d) practice or policy relevance?

I was drawn to the program evaluation work in California schools because of its potential to contribute to state and school accountability for effective education of minority language children. My faculty position at UOG gave me many opportunities – across 30 years – to conduct basic research on the lives and learning of Micronesian children, as I explain in my book on Romonum Island (2015) and in my chapter in the co-edited book on Ulithi Atoll of Yap State, FSM (2018). As Dean of a large college there for a decade, I believe I was able to support and inspire faculty in several disciplines to engage language and culture research, teaching, and service activities relevant to regional needs. I recently taught several class sessions to UOG psychology majors and Micronesian Studies graduate students to disseminate my research methods and results. Here on Maui, I collaborate with an elementary school in order to provide teaching assistance to Micronesian migrant students and to support their teachers and principal.


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