June 2020 Special Edition Spotlight, Frederick Leong, Ph.D.

To continue celebrating the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, we are featuring Dr. Frederick Leong (fleong@msu.edu) as our special guest in this month’s Spotlight. Dr. Leong is Professor of Psychology (Industrial/Organizational and Clinical Psychology Programs) and Director of the Consortium for Multicultural Psychology Research at Michigan State University. His major research interests center around culture and mental health, cross-cultural psychotherapy (especially with Asians and Asian Americans), cultural and personality factors related to career choice and work adjustment. He is currently serving on the APA Board of Scientific Affairs, the Minority Fellowship Program Advisory Committee and the Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention, and Training (CEMRRAT2) Task Force. He is the 2007 co-recipient of the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology.

1)What drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

I am a Chinese Malaysian who came to the United States to study Psychology. I believe that growing up in a multracial and multicultural country like Malaysia exposed me to the importance of culture. Once in the United States, I learned about being an Asian American. I had received a scholarship to study at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. During my college years, my best friends ended up being a White Anglo-Saxon from Portsmouth, New Hampshire (his father was the minister who preceded at my wedding), an intense Jewish American from Cleveland, Ohio, and an Italian American from Brooklyn. At Bates, there were very few Asian American women to date. So, I ended up dating a classmate who is part English and Scottish. I married that classmate (just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary) and had to learn about intercultural marriage. We have two lovely children (currently 26 and 31 years old) and both of them, of course, are Amerasian. I learned more about culture from watching them grow up in America as mixed-race persons. As a result of these experiences, I could not help noticing that culture is a major determinant of human behavior. Therefore, in graduate school, I had decided to make culture a central part of my training and experience. 

I believe that my research program has been guided by this belief in the importance of culture and my favorite quote from Ruth Benedict illustrates this very well:

“No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking. Even in his philosophical probings, he cannot go behind these stereotypes; his very concepts of the true and the false will still have reference to his particular traditional customs….. From the moment of his birth the customs into which he is born shape his experience and behavior. By the time he can talk, he is the little creature of his culture, and by the time he is grown and able to take part in its activities, its habits are his habits, its beliefs his beliefs, its impossibilities his impossibilities. ….  There is no social problem it is more incumbent upon us to understand than this, the role of custom.  Until we are intelligent as to its laws and varieties, the main complicating facts of human life must remain unintelligible.”

From Ruth Benedict, 1934,  in Patterns of Culture (pages 2-3)

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

Let me begin with my favorite Chinese story of the old Farmer and the lost horse. To save space, I have provided a link to the story (http://www.thechurning.net/there-are-no-opportunities-or-threats-the-parable-of-the-taoist-farmer/ ). For me this story illustrates that we are always faced with incomplete information and imperfect knowledge. To deal with these uncertainties in life and in one’s career, I have proposed that individuals should adopt a Diversified Portfolio Model (DPM) of adaptability. Several years ago, I received the Leona Tyler Lifetime Achievement Award from APA Division of Counseling Psychology. As part of this award, I gave an award address which was eventually published in The Counseling Psychologist. I recommend reading this article to learn about how the DPM can help with your careers. [Leong, F.T.L. (2020). Diversified Portfolio Model of adaptability: A natural history perspective. The Counseling Psychologist, 48, 608-624]

Given below is the abstract from the article to whet your appetite:

Abstract: Using a natural history perspective, the Diversified Portfolio Model (DPM) of Adaptability developed by Chandra and Leong (2016) is described in this article as a representation of the latter author’s life work in researching diversity and adaptability. The primary thesis of the DPM is that a diversified portfolio of activities, roles, and experiences will lead to greater adaptability in life. The DPM was intended to address a gap in the literature by illuminating the antecedents of adaptive processes that have been studied in current models, including those for self-complexity, risk and resilience, and self-efficacy. This description is followed by an example of the application of the DPM in academic careers. The mechanisms underlying the DPM are then discussed in relation to mental models and mindfulness. Next, the negative effects of non-diversification are illustrated with examples of workaholism and loneliness. Finally, the DPM is linked to the author’s own diversified portfolio of roles and activities to illustrate its positive impact.

3) A preferred weblink

https://psychology.msu.edu/directory/leong-frederick.html

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