This installment profiles Ann Webb Price, a community psychologist whose successful evaluation consulting practice is a perfect fit for her skills and work style.
What does a community psychologist do?
Living Community Psychology highlights a community psychologist through an in-depth interview intended to highlight the personal and professional lives of those working in our field. The intent is to personalize Community Psychology as it is lived by its diverse practitioners. These past columns contain a wealth of life advice gleaned from over 60 profiled community psychologists, from graduate students to retirees, representing an invaluable resource for community psychologists.
*All columns are available online, at http://www.scra27.org/publications/tcp/tcp-past-issues.
Ann Price was born and raised in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, the sixth of nine children. When she was still young, her father retired from the Air Force. He subsequently worked multiple jobs to put food on the table for his large family, and her mother took in laundry. Later, her father started a business, a plant nursery. Her mother ran that business during the day while her father worked at a civil service job at the local air force base. He died at the age of 53 when Ann was a junior in college. Each of the minor children received veteran survivors’ benefits, assuring payment for their educations. Ann worked starting at the age of 14, including busing tables at restaurants and working at Chick-fil-A throughout high school and community college.
All of the Webb children attended parochial school at the Catholic school directly across the street from their house. She happily attended that parochial school until grade 8, after which she attended a public high school. Her mother (although only a high school graduate) advised Ann never to take a typing class “or you’ll end up a secretary,” which she saw as a dead end job for women.
In high school, Ann was a good student, very active in school clubs and was elected a class officer 4 times. However, her high school offered little in the way of college counseling, just handing her a college catalog to read. Like many of her friends, she attended the local community college after high school, contributing to her expenses by working. As early as high school, she knew she wanted to study for a PhD, originally planning a career in cancer research — until she took a chemistry course in community college. She then switched to a psychology major.
Most of her siblings attended college, and her mother attended college for a while, when in her 60s. After community college, Ann attended the University of West Florida (UWF). Although UWF was only 45 minutes away from home, she lived on campus, having “left the nest, permanently.” UWF had great professors, and she worked in their research labs. “I aspired to be a clinical psychologist, which seemed to be the choice of most psychology majors I knew.” She invited a professor-mentor to lunch to talk about her future, at which time he encouraged her to consider being an applied psychologist. He told her: “I see you as an applied psychologist working in the community.”
Thinking “he saw something in me I had not seen,” his prediction was based on the jobs she had held already. That is, while studying for her BA (1983) and MA (1986) degrees, she had worked in the community, in education or with youth related organizations. She had specialized in consulting with organizations that educate disruptive children and held a post-BA job in which she did crisis counseling with juvenile offenders.
By this point, she was married, to Dan Price whom she had met at a fraternity party at UWF. He had earned a degree in a new field, Accounting Information Systems (AIS), at UWF and was offered a job in Atlanta at an accounting firm. (He later moved to Coca Cola, where he has been for 27 years). In Atlanta, she retained her interest in graduate study for a doctorate but, in the interim, she accepted a recruiting job at Rockwell International. Although she obtained valuable professional polish from her Rockwell job, the corporate environment was not a good fit for her. Instead, she took a job at a mental hospital and joined a private clinical practice group.
Later, she worked as lead therapist at a treatment hospital with substance-abusing teens. She was frustrated with the parents who would not deal with their own substance abuse issues and with the high relapse rates of their children. “Although I did notice that many of them magically improved just as their insurance was running out,” she remembers. She burned out and began thinking about how much more effective prevention would be. Although she had earlier been rejected from clinical programs at several universities in Georgia, soul searching led her to a different direction, tapping into her interest in prevention and systems level interventions. She fortuitously found and was accepted into the community organization program at Georgia State University (GSU). Eventually, this organizational management program was phased out and morphed into the community psychology program – “even more perfect for me.”
At the time she entered the PhD program, she had two sons – ages 3 years and 3 months, somewhat unusual for a graduate student. To accommodate her growing family, she entered the program in January. “I’d set the alarm for 4 am to study, but it never failed that soon after, the baby would awake.” Because of her own “imposter syndrome” feelings, she lacked confidence. “I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder, to tell me I did not belong there.” She now offers the following advice to women students in the same situation: “Ask for what you need, such as a private location to use a breast pump. You have a right to be supported in your education.”
Although GSU accepted some of the credits she had earned in her MA program, it still took her 7 years to complete her doctoral program. “If I had to do it again, I would have done the program more quickly.” In part, this was due to her decision to repeat all of her statistics courses to assure a strong grounding. She received a solid foundation to pursue an applied career. In addition to her classes, she gained skills from her work in her professors’ research labs at GSU as well as a research job as data manager at Grady Hospital (with Dr. Nadine Kaslow of Emory University, now APA president). Her former math fear was diminishing: “Statistics now made sense to me. I assess myself as being quantitatively competent but not quantitatively gifted.”
Three months before earning her PhD (2000), she had a third child. She applied for a position at Macro International, but for a part time position, because she also wanted to continue teaching part time at Kennesaw University as an adjunct and now had 3 children at home. The Macro experience was intense, her colleagues were impressive, and her skills were much improved, especially in techniques for communicating data to funders.
Around the time that her youngest was entering kindergarten and she was considering full time employment again, a friend at Catholic Services recommended her for a position as victim assistance coordinator with Atlanta’s Archdiocese. The job was to implement nationally required reforms around sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests – in the midst of the furor over clerical pedophilia and its cover-up, then at its height. She surveyed the best prevention programs and chose one for the Bishop’s consideration. However, her recommendation was not taken seriously, and she realized that she was being used by the Archdiocese as mere window dressing. Not only was she fired after only 4 months, right after the Church audit found the Archdiocese’s approach (notably, hiring her) to constitute compliance (http://www.archatl.com/offices/ocyp/audit/2003-results.html), but her firing became front page news in Atlanta. The circumstances are discussed in http://www.snapnetwork.org/op_ed/stories/atlanta_archidocese_must_ensure.htm
Always highly spiritual and raised as a devoted Catholic, this traumatic, isolating experience forced Ann to reassess her relationship to the Church. Also, with great force of will, she rebounded from this painful experience by reinventing her career, in a direction that suits her perfectly – opening a private evaluation practice. She was encouraged by her friends, especially women, to “hang your shingle out there. It’s the old adage – ‘When fired, start consulting businesses!’” She looks back, ten years later, now seeing this career reinvention as a blessing in disguise.
Not having learned how to run a business in graduate school, she got started by buying books from Barnes and Noble on entrepreneurship and hired a CPA to incorporate her company. Although she’s made use of social media, most of her business comes through word of mouth. Early on, she set some rules for herself so as to maximize her work happiness. Most important, she wanted a personal connection to her clients, requiring that she and her clients share values. (She carefully picks and chooses her clients, well enough so that in 10 years, she has only experienced two minor “misses.”) She also gave herself permission to make mistakes – “not to beat myself up for mistakes, which are inevitable, especially while learning.”
Running a successful home-based business requires discipline (“and a Type A personality”). She is naturally well organized and practices good project management techniques, necessary for juggling several clients, multiple milestones, etc. She is assisted by an office manager, occasional part time research assistants and a summer intern. “In writing a scope of work for a contract, I set time milestones, based in part on my internal sense of time management that I have developed from experience.” Boards hanging on her office wall (see accompanying photo of that wall) track her different projects, “managing the chaos.” Noting that it is easy to get overwhelmed in her line of work, she has established collegial relationships with other professionals who are available as subcontractors for additional work, when needed.
In order to maintain and strengthen collaborative relationships, she makes a 15-20 minute monthly call with each client to check in, finding the information gained to be as significant as the data being analyzed. “The numbers don’t tell me anything about context. These calls provide a richness of additional information that proves an important part of the evaluation report.”
Fortunately, her practice’s revenue has grown every year. At the start, she developed a business plan for her practice, including a comparative analysis of fees charged by evaluators in her area. She established a fee structure, in part based on her intuitive sense. (Also her husband’s business acumen was very helpful.) Most of her contracts are fixed price in which a prospective client tells her how much money is available, and Ann details what she can accomplish for that amount.
One of the challenges of her work is when a client is supported by several different funders, each of whom imposes different requirements for conducting evaluations. Also, some funders (and/or clients) have unrealistic expectations as to what an evaluation can accomplish, given available resources. However, she’s observed that increasingly more funders are appreciating the benefits of sound evaluation principles and procedures. And she has observed that more funders are attending meetings of the American Evaluation Association (AEA).
Since a solo consulting practice can be lonely, she joined networks of other evaluation professionals and became an active participant. Close to home, she joined the Atlanta area affiliate of the AEA which sponsors many presentations and has an online presence. (The distance and congested traffic in downtown Atlanta are barriers to her attending more meetings.) AEA is her primary professional affiliation at this time; “it’s very easy to get involved.” She has consistently attended AEA’s national annual meetings, saying “I always learn a lot there and leave the meetings energized.” AEA has grown since she joined 10 years ago; the annual meetings now attract about 4,000 attendees. She finds the leaders of the evaluation field to be highly approachable. At these meetings, evaluation jobs, contracts and resumes are posted, and new contacts are made for future follow up. Before each meeting, she strategizes a central focus, such as a commitment to learn an evaluation technique (e.g., data visualization).
AEA is organized into more than 50 Topical Interest Groups (TIGs), one of which is a relatively new group co-founded by SCRA’s Susan Wolfe, for community psychologists and other evaluators who practice in communities. Ann returned to her community psychology roots by joining this TIG, which was formed around community psychology values. In turn, she credits Susan with leading her back to SCRA. (When she earlier quit APA, she mistakenly thought that one had to be a member of APA to be an SCRA member. Susan disabused her of this misunderstanding.) Ann has served as co-chair of the community psychology TIG for the last two years and will be presenting at SCRA’s 2015 biennial conference, at the invitation of Susan Wolfe.
Ann’s family life is another source of stability and happiness. Dan works in “business intelligence” at Coca Cola. Her oldest son Joshua is a musician, also studying for an IT degree in Nashville and married two years. Aaron, age 22, is graduating from Clemson University in May 2015 and already has lined up a good job offer. Youngest son, Zachary, is age 15 and another budding musician. Sadie, the dog, completes the family. Her mother returned to live in her hometown in Mississippi, along with three of Ann’s siblings.
Two sons being on their own now has allowed Ann to take up new activities for herself. An acknowledged “foodie,” she loves to try out new recipes and prepares holiday feasts for a large crowd. She reads for pleasure, takes Zumba classes and wants to get music back in her life.
Ann endeavors to make contributions which incorporate the community, systems level perspective to all interventions on behalf of her nonprofit clients. She strongly encourages new professionals to use networking, not just to find a job, but also to grow as a professional. She tries to surround herself with colleagues who have specific areas of expertise in which she has less knowledge. And mostly, she encourages young community psychologists to, “Force yourself to follow up with possible mentors, exchange cards, and participate actively in networks. You just have to do it. Being outgoing and assertive does not come naturally to me. It always surprises people who know me when I say that. But confidence is something I have always struggled with. I feel like I am just now hitting my stride.”
Written by Gloria Levin