Focus On Faculty: Pamela Orpinas

Professor Pamela Orpinas has trained hundreds of teachers, parents and students in the prevention of bullying, and she incorporates that experience into her teaching in the College of Public Health.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I studied psychology at the Catholic University of Chile. Several years after graduation, I came to the United States for my graduate degrees. My master of public health degree is from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a concentration in health promotion and community health sciences. My Ph.D. is from the College of Public Health at the University of Texas in Houston, with a concentration in behavioral sciences. I am a professor in the department of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health. I teach and conduct research in the area of adolescent development and the prevention of bullying and violence.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came to UGA in 1997. I saw a job advertisement for an assistant professor that seemed to have been written for me. I immediately loved the university and Athens.
What are your favorite courses and why?

This question is difficult; it’s like being asked to name your favorite child. I teach undergraduate, master’s and doctoral-level classes, and like them all. I like teaching about the importance of using theories to explain and change behaviors. I also really enjoy teaching about the prevention of injury and violence.

What interests you about your field?

We know so much about how to live a healthy, long and happy life, yet many people do not apply that basic knowledge to their lives. People don’t think about their health until they lose it. My research has focused on the healthy development of children and adolescents. In particular, I am interested in understanding what differentiates groups of adolescents who follow distinct behavioral trajectories and what are the outcomes of those trajectories. Based on that knowledge, we can develop better programs that are specific to certain groups.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

I have received several large grants that allowed me to follow a cohort of students for seven years. This research is unique in that it has helped me identify groups of students who follow distinct trajectories over time. For this work, I received the Creative Research Medal in 2007 and the College of Public Health Research Award in 2013. I have written two books published by the American Psychological Association. My first book, “Bullying Prevention: Creating a Positive School Climate and Developing Social Competence” (2006), exemplifies my work in school violence prevention. My second book, “Realizing Social Justice: The Challenge of Preventive Interventions” (2009), shows my interest in social justice and in advancing research to help children move out of poverty. In addition, it has been very important for me to integrate the work I do here at UGA with the work I have done for the Pan American Health Organization, working with Latino families in the United States and in Latin America.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

Research, teaching and service all come together in my work on the prevention of violence and promotion of healthy development of adolescents and young adults. As part of my research, we have trained hundreds of teachers, parents and students in the prevention of bullying and other aggressive behaviors, and I incorporate my research experience into my teaching.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I hope they enhance their critical thinking, writing skills and understanding of human behavior.

Describe your ideal student.

My ideal students love to learn, are eager to develop new skills and practice what they preach.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

My favorite place is the deck behind the graduate school building overlooking the river. You can see turtles and herons; it is very peaceful.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

I love to travel and talk with different people. It opens my mind to experience how people from other cultures live. Of course, I like to travel to Chile, my native country. It has the driest desert of the world in the north and one of the wettest, greenest and lushest places in the world in the south. The lofty peaks and snow-capped volcanoes of the Andean Mountains stand above it all from north to south.

Community/civic involvement includes….

I am a board member of Prevent Child Abuse Athens. I volunteer in multiple groups to talk about how to prevent bullying in schools. I also volunteer each year in the Clarke County river cleanup.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I love Isabel Allende’s books, particularly “Island Beneath the Sea” and “Ines of My Soul.” Both are historical fiction books.

Proudest moment at UGA?

My proudest moments have always been hooding my doctoral students.

Posted November 18, 2013.

Originally published November 17, 2013 for UGA’s Focus On Faculty feature: