September 09, 2014 6:30 AM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

This is the first of a series of blog entries that I’ll be posting during my time in office as President-Elect (and later as President) of SSEA. The purpose of these blogs is to start a conversation with the SSEA membership about who we are and where we want to go as a professional society. But my first blog entry will be more personal – to introduce myself and give you a sense of what I’m about.

Some of you know me as a friend or colleague, many of you know me as an acquaintance, some of you have heard me speak or read my work, and some of you don’t know me at all. Regardless of which group you fall into, I would like each of you to get to know me better. I am very eager to start working with all of you, and I believe that the best way to start our collaboration is to give you a sense of who I am and how I came to SSEA.

My original research interest, dating back to the early 1990s, was in identity development. Some of you who have known me for a long time might remember my early days as a graduate student at Florida State University and later at Florida International University. My mentor, Dr. Richard (Dick) Dunham, introduced me to identity research in January 1991, and I was hooked. I still have my master’s thesis dataset that I gathered at Florida State back in 1994 and 1995.

When I moved to Miami to attend Florida International University for my PhD, I experienced a serious case of culture shock. Going from Tallahassee (a small, Southern American town) to Miami (an international, multicultural city) was like moving to another planet. It was hard for me to believe that so many emerging adults still lived at home with their parents! I left home when I finished high school, and I never went back – and I always thought that everyone followed that path. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during my 18 years living in Miami is the importance of culture.  Living in such a diverse place taught me that my own cultural orientation was just that – my own cultural orientation. Watching people from so many different countries and backgrounds interact with each other, become friends with each other, and even marry each other was fascinating to me. Clearly, there was more to identity than just one’s own goals and plans. The cultural behaviors, beliefs, and attachments that each person carries are part of that person’s sense of self as well.

So I became a cultural identity researcher, which is probably how most people know me now. I study immigrant adolescents, emerging adults, and families because I am fascinated at how people adapt to a new cultural environment (usually without losing their core sense of self). I’ve known people who risked everything they had – sometimes even risking their lives – to move to a new country with more opportunities for themselves and their families. I’ve seen young people thrive in spite of challenges that I couldn’t even imagine having to face. And even though some of my research interests are in risky behaviors, I’ve always maintained an optimistic view of human nature. Everyone is capable of doing well and contributing to society – regardless of their gender, ethnic group, national background, or sexual orientation. I believe in the greatness of the human spirit – I’ve seen too many people overcome the odds to believe otherwise.

I stayed in Miami after finishing my PhD. I met the love of my life and married her just after defending my dissertation, so I found a position at the University of Miami medical school. I have now been at UM for 14 years and became a full professor at the beginning of June. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced during my years as a faculty member – aside from raising my two daughters – has been mentoring young scholars. I got into academia because I wanted to do for others what Dick Dunham did for me. I wanted to get young people started and help them establish a research program for themselves. Dick gave me the confidence that I could succeed as a researcher, and passing that gift on to others is an amazing experience. Watching one of my mentees publish a paper or write a grant is like watching one of my kids say their first words or take their first steps. The satisfaction I get from mentoring and encouraging others is a major reason why I wanted to be president of a young, growing organization like SSEA.

I’ve also worked with a lot of colleagues from other countries, and that is another reason I was attracted to SSEA. I was at the first SSEA meeting at Harvard University in October 2003, and the society was international even then. Jeff Arnett and Jenn Tanner worked hard to reach out to people from outside the United States, and their efforts have paid off. None of the other societies I belong to place such a strong emphasis on being international and on incorporating culture into their culture – and given how important culture is to my work, I knew SSEA would be my academic home as soon as I attended that first conference 11 years ago.

I’m looking forward to the next conference in Miami – where I will be the host as well as the incoming president. I’m proud to live here and to call this city home. The cultural diversity in Miami is amazing – my kids have friends from so many different countries – and it reminds me of how important culture is in everything we do. I can’t wait to share this wonderful city with all of you next year. And I’m really excited to start our work together in SSEA.


Seth J. Schwartz, President-Elect