Melissa Tehee, assistant professor of psychology, was awarded a Native Investigators Development Program award in addition to participation in the competitive GUMSHOE program.
As a member of the Cherokee Nation, Tehee is committed to researching trauma in marginalized populations throughout the lifespan, with particular focus on American Indians.
“We are fortunate to have Dr. Tehee at Utah State University,” said Scott Bates, associate vice president and associate dean. “It is clear that she has a bright future ahead of her and that the department’s long-standing, successful American Indian Support Project is in good hands. Her award is a foundation that will promote her continued success and development while supporting USU’s land-grant mission of educating the state in a way that is accessible to all.”
The GUMSHOE program seeks to train junior faculty studying underserved and underrepresented populations on grant writing best practices to increase funding and research with these groups. In addition to a three-day conference at the University of Colorado, Denver focused on developing attendees grant proposals, participants in the GUMSHOE program are paired with coaches from like disciplines who have successful track records in obtaining federal funding.
“It was really cool to sit in a room full of people who are all interested in writing grants or doing research with tribes, or in urban settings with American Indians,” Tehee said. “As you went around the room, there were so many people focusing on trauma from different disciplines. I thought to myself, ‘Why are we not talking to each other?’”
Through connections made at the GUMSHOE conference Tehee is developing a new research project looking at the influence of past trauma experienced by current elders and symptoms of trauma that may still be present.
Historically, many elders were taken from their families as children and put into boarding schools intended to dampen their Indian culture and help children assimilate into an American way of life. In addition to the trauma of being stripped from their families, children experienced corporal punishment and other abuses while at these schools.
“They weren’t allowed to speak their native language or allowed to wear their cultural dress. Their hair was cut, something against their culture,” Tehee explained. “I want to know how these experiences affect elders today.”
It is through the Native Investigator Development Program, her second award, that Tehee will develop and implement her research. The ultimate goal of this two-year program is for candidates to become self-sustaining independent investigators at the interface of aging, health and culture.
“Focusing on elderly populations is new for me,” Tehee said. “ I think that that the elderly population in the United States in general is so devalued which is such a contrast to what tribal values are.”
In addition to her research and teaching responsibilities, Tehee serves as the director of the American Indian Support Project (AISP). The project was launched in 1986 in an effort to increase the number of American Indian mental health professionals to address mental health issues in American Indian Schools.
In addition to providing graduate study opportunities to American Indians in the field of psychology, AISP also supports the annual convention of Indian Psychologists.
This annual convention was an important piece in Tehee’s path to USU as she attended the retreat and conference for 11 summers prior to taking an appointment in the psychology department.
“I was really well acquainted with the department and area.” Tehee said. “I knew what I was getting into. There aren’t a lot of tribes in this area, so I knew my research would have to be on a national scale. Opportunities such as the GUMSHOE and Native Investigator Development Program provide the networking opportunities needed to support my personal research interests, while maintaining existing American Indian programs at USU.”