June 19, 2024

Bruce Svare ’71, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at the State University of New York at Albany, has spent his career contributing to the field of psychology through research and teaching. His greatest joy now comes from leaning on his impressive credentials to the benefit of those in need.

He recently returned from a five-month Fulbright Scholar Award stay in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where he worked with academics in leading universities, medical schools and health science centers to improve the discipline of psychology, which will expand and enhance graduate training in the fields of clinical psychology, counseling, social work and marital and family therapy.

“The Fulbright program, which is the premier exchange program in the world today, has allowed me to get outside myself and work on behalf of something much bigger than me,” Svare said. “It has allowed me to go to a number of disadvantaged and under resourced countries and assist in the building of more contemporary psychology programs that could train the next generation of mental healthcare workers.”

The countries he traveled to within the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region have some of the lowest levels of mental health care services in the world and are attempting to improve needed infrastructure and professionalized training to better serve the psychological needs of their citizens.

“The founding constitution of WHO (the World Health Organization) states that physical and mental healthcare are a basic human right. It also states that physical care and mental health care are equally important. This needs to become a reality for all ASEAN citizens to improve the quality of their living,” Svare said. “In spite of the significant challenges that prevent this, my objective is to continue to assist ASEAN countries to accomplish this important goal.”

Lectures, workshops for mental health professionals and students

During his Fulbright stay, Svare gave over 30 lectures and workshops to administrators, faculty, students and community mental healthcare professionals. At every institution he spoke on the significant challenges and roadblocks that southeast Asian countries face in improving mental healthcare, reforms that are needed to accomplish this goal, and the consequences for failing to improve professionalized psychological services. He also lectured on the latest research on the diagnosis and treatment of depression, the burgeoning field of cognitive neuroscience, and how to improve faculty teaching and scholarly research and writing.

As a result of his Fulbright work, Svare has been asked to assist a steering committee at Fulbright University Vietnam that will be creating a U.S.-style graduate program in psychology. That program will focus on behavioral neuroscience as well as counseling and clinical psychology. It will provide critically needed professionalized training for mental health care workers in Vietnam as well as the entire southeast Asian region.

Svare’s Fulbright Scholar Award to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam was his fourth Fulbright award. His first two were in 2006 and 2014, both to Thailand. He was awarded his third in 2022 but declined it due to the global pandemic. He then reapplied in the next cycle and received the award again in March 2023.

A time to give back

As a student at Susquehanna, Svare had little idea of what he wanted to do in his life. He changed his major four times in his first two years and sampled courses in mathematics, French literature, biology, economics, history, music and sociology.

It was at the end of his sophomore year — when classmates told him of their experimental psychology courses — that he set out on the path that would lead him to his lifelong calling.

“I spent the next two years studying psychology and working in the laboratories of Jim Misanin, Michael Nagy and Ged Schweikert. Through their mentorship, I experienced the excitement of conducting original research,” Svare said. “I also learned about the importance of the scientific method and the interdisciplinary nature of psychology. These are foundational parts of the study of behavior that continue to nurture me even to this day.”

After graduating from Susquehanna, Svare went on to earn his master’s degree in experimental psychology from Bucknell University and his doctorate in psychobiology from Rutgers University. He then conducted 3 years of NIH (National Institute of Health) sponsored postdoctoral work at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. In 1978, he joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Albany and taught and conducted research in the graduate and undergraduate behavioral neuroscience program. He published extensively in the fields of behavioral neuroendocrinology, anabolic steroid abuse, sports reform and international education.

“During my career, I have been fortunate to train some remarkably talented and committed students, many of whom are now making their own contributions to the discipline of psychology. I have also been able to contribute to the scientific community and the solving of human problems through my research published in peer-reviewed journals,” Svare said. “But there comes a time when many academics like me begin to think about giving back to their profession in ways that potentially could be more impactful.”

Since his first Fulbright award, his work will have a lasting impact on future generations.

“I have been on that journey of learning, teaching and discovery for 20 years now and it is the highlight of my professional career,” Svare said. “There is nothing more rewarding than making a difference in another culture, another country, that potentially can contribute, no matter how small, to reducing human inequality and potentially improving world peace.”

Svare’s article in International Psychology Bulletin, “A Status Report on the Development of Psychology in Thailand: Progress, Challenges and a Role for ASEAN,” can be read here.