Story behind the awards: The Mary Jo Kupst Trainee Grant for Research in Resilience

Mary Jo Kupst, PhD’s commitment to mentoring graduate students, trainees and junior colleagues is an important part of the legacy for which the Mary Jo Kupst Trainee Grant for Research in Resilience was named.

By Anne E. Kazak

The Board of Directors of the Society of Pediatric Psychology (SPP) approved the Mary Jo Kupst Trainee Grant for Research in Resilienc e in 2013 and posted calls for applications for its first recipient in early 2014. This article continues the series of brief articles about “the stories behind the SPP awards.” In doing so, this article addresses two major points. The first is a brief description of Mary Jo Kupst, PhD, and her work. The second is the history of how and why the award came to be established.

Kupst is well known to our pediatric psychology community for her many contributions to the field. She was born and raised in Chicago in 1945 and stayed there for her undergraduate and graduate education and the early phases of her career. Kupst received her BS (1967), MA (1969) and PhD (1972) in psychology from the Loyola University of Chicago and completed a fellowship in community psychology at the University of Illinois Medical School in 1971-72. Kupst spent the first 17 years of her career at Northwestern University Medical School (Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry) and she also served as a Research Psychologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital (Chicago).

In 1989 Kupst left Chicago for the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) where she joined the Department of Pediatrics and the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. While continuing her research in Wisconsin, Kupst also focused on supporting the development of programs in pediatric psychology at MCW and CHW, each using a model of embedded psychologists integrated into medical divisions and programs. Her commitment to mentoring graduate students, trainees and junior colleagues in these and other programs is an important part of the legacy Kupst established in Milwaukee.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) funded research ( Coping in Families with a Leukemic Child , 1976-1981) that Kupst and her colleagues completed in Chicago – The Coping Project – was groundbreaking as a longitudinal study of families of children addressing coping in this population. In her Pioneers of Pediatric Psychology article, Kupst describes in some detail how her conceptualization and measurement of coping evolved and the influence of Richard Lazarus on the development of this research (Kupst, in press). The research on these families continued over time and remains today of the few and longer longitudinal cohorts in our field (see Kupst et al. 1995 for the 12 year outcome data and Kupst and Schulman [1980] for an early edited book on psychosocial care and research in pediatric cancer). These findings, most notably about the adaptive coping of these families and the support for consistency in coping and adjustment over time, were critical in shaping much subsequent work that assured our ongoing appreciation for resilience of youth and families in the face of medical adversities.

On a more personal note, Kupst notes that her interest in resilience was shaped by her own experiences as an only child in a loving family that valued education and encouraged her to follow her interests, without regard to the gender specific expectations typical of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Kupst’s Irish grandmother quoted Luke 12:48 “to whom much is given, much is expected,” a phrase that guided her work and generosity to our field and to students.

Indeed, in addition to her work in Chicago and Milwaukee and research contributions, Kupst remains committed to serving nationally on behalf of pediatric psychology. She is a Charter Fellow of SPP and served as President of in 2004 and vice chair of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) Psychology Committee (2002-2006) and the Behavioral Science Committee (2006-present), among other positions.

The initial interest in establishing the Mary Jo Kupst Trainee Grant came from the Executive Planning Committee of the 2012 Midwest Regional Conference in Pediatric Psychology which was held April 26-29, 2012, in Milwaukee, WI. Kupst retired that year and was honored at the meeting. Her long-time colleagues Robert Noll, PhD. (Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh) and Andrea Patenaude, PhD (Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital Boston) made presentations in her honor at the conference. The presentations were very well received and Kupst received a standing ovation.

After the conference, the planning committee (consisting of Astrida Kaugers [Marquette], Hobart Davies [University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee], Elizabeth Fischer [CHW], Heather Ciesielski [Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center] and Rachel Greenley [Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science] approached SPP about the idea of a named award for their colleague. The award was envisioned as supporting trainees because of Kupst’s dedication to mentoring and resilience because of her research contributions and also because this topic was not represented in the existing SPP awards. The SPP Executive Committee agreed that honoring Kupst was important and allocated funds to sustain the grant into the future.