Desiree Seponski, an assistant professor in Human Development and Family Science, uses her passion for international marriage and family therapy and research to teach students how to positively impact families of different cultures and backgrounds and ultimately the community.
Where did you earn your degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my BA from Saint Mary’s at Notre Dame, with majors in women’s studies and psychology and a minor in math, and am proud to be a “Double Dawg” with both an MS and PhD in Child and Family Development and Marriage and Family Therapy specialization, and qualitative certificate, from UGA. I was an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake for 3 years and MFT program director for one of those years. I am excited to be joining the HDFS department and MFT program at UGA this fall and currently teach the Marriage and Family Practicum and conduct research on culturally responsive family therapy practices in Southeast Asia.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
This is my first semester here, as an assistant professor, and The University of Georgia is the perfect fit for me because of the uniqueness of the marriage and family therapy program. This is the only place in the country where students get both the marriage and family therapy specialization and strong HDFS emphasis. The opportunities for scholarly growth and interdisciplinary collaboration are abundant and I look forward to developing relationships across campus.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite courses include MFT theories, lifespan development, diversity in family therapy, and family therapy practicum. I enjoy teaching about the importance of considering historical contexts, family origins and values, sociocultural ideals, lifespan development, and sociopolitical pressures in relation to the family’s health.
What interests you the most about your field?
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one is able to make a direct impact in people's lives. Even if I am not the therapist in the room, but the supervisor (or researcher) behind the mirror, I use a team approach with the students to help individuals, couples, and families develop healthier relationships using evidence-based practices. My primary interests are broadly focused on culturally responsive therapeutic intervention processes and outcomes with particular interests in Southeast Asian immigrants and marginalized families who have experienced poverty, trauma, and discrimination. I am working on several projects and grants to involve the students in this work in the US and Cambodia.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
In HDFS and MFT, I regularly work with students who are also interested in international families and international marriage and family therapy. One of the best parts of my job is to witness students going beyond their comfort zones to really reach out, learn about others, and make an impact on global level.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I’m really passionate about HDFS and MFT and I hope that when students leave my classroom, even if it is a “required course”, they have found something about the material that peaks their interest, are able to see how it is applicable to their lives or the lives of others, or feel more excited about research and theory.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student has an intrinsic desire for learning and shares responsibility for their education by wanting more than the “A” and to gain knowledge and understanding. It’s especially rewarding when a student completes my class and articulates ways to apply the material in their own personal or professional life, or continues in the area through outreach or research.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is ...
The main library. I am inspired when walking up and down the isles, smelling the intoxicating scent of old books and the readers’ coffees, and seeing what other people have written.
Beyond the UGA campus I like to…
Spend time trying all of the amazing Athens restaurants. There are so many choices! I especially enjoy the Taco Stand and spending Sunday mornings at Dunkin Donuts with my family.
Favorite books/movie and why?
Professionally, I think every therapist should have Gehart & Tuttle’s (2003) “Theory Based Treatment Planning for Marriage and Family Therapists”. As far as pleasure reading, I read every single Boxcar Children book when I was younger. My number one, hands-down favorite would be the first of the series. I absolutely love re-reading them as they bring back such positive memories.
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moment will be hooding my first doctoral student. As of yet, my proudest moment at UGA was when I was granted the Fulbright Fellowship as a graduate student. It was an honor to be awarded the opportunity to research something that I was so passionate about and really believed in.