Brandywine professor's family tree has deep Penn State roots

Pauline Guerin, psychology program coordinator and associate professor of psychology at Penn State Brandywine, may be new to the University, but certainly not her ancestors. Guerin has traced her family tree--thanks to her genealogy-hobbyist dad--all the way back (and beyond) to Frederick Watts (1801-1889) who is considered to be the father of Penn State and the first board chairperson of the University. That would make Watts, Guerin's first cousin, seven times removed on her father's side.

According to Penn State historian Wayland Dunaway, "More than any other man, perhaps Watts deserves the title 'founder' of Penn State." He was an attorney, business leader and gentleman farmer of Carlisle, who led the way in working with state government to secure approval of the charter that created Penn State in 1855.

Although those are some big Penn State shoes to fill, Guerin is enthusiastically embracing her Nittany Lion title of associate professor of psychology as well as her Pennsylvania roots. Guerin recently moved back to the Commonwealth after living down under for the past 16 years. She followed her heart and fiancé to New Zealand in 1996 and then lived in Australia before finding her way back home.

Guerin grew up in northeast Pennsylvania in a small country town called Wapwallopen and received her psychology degrees from Pennsylvania colleges--DeSales University and Temple University. When she saw the Brandywine job opening while working in Australia, she knew she was ready to go home.

 "I read the job description and said, 'That's my job. That's where I'm supposed to go ? This job was calling me back to my roots ? I think the mountains of Pennsylvania—you can only be away from them for so long and it had just gotten too long for me."

This connection to land is not only important to Guerin personally but also professionally, as she described in a recent interview. "Working with indigenous populations--Maori in New Zealand and Aboriginal Australians, as well as refugees--I learned a lot about the importance of 'home' and connection to land and country and how that defines you. It is who you are."

Guerin's academic areas of expertise are health psychology and Indigenous and refugee health. She co-wrote an award-winning text book on Indigenous health in Australia titled  "Health Care and Indigenous Australians: Cultural Safety in Practice." She worked with Maori health workers on helping women to quit smoking as well as in remote Aboriginal communities in Australia exploring ideas of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing.

"We know that globally indigenous populations suffer poorer health than generally any population group," said Guerin. "Some academics describe that as a fourth world circumstance which is when there are poverty and health conditions of third world or developing countries within wealthy western nations. One of the most important things I've learned is that the health of the people in our society is everyone's responsibility."

At Penn State Brandywine Guerin teaches classes in health psychology and diversity. She's very excited about the new undergraduate degree psychology program which enables students to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology at the suburban Philadelphia campus.

"We have a very unique flavor to the psychology degree," enthused Guerin. "It has an emphasis on culture, health, diversity, social justice and a community focus."

That community focus is what really attracted Guerin to the position at Brandywine and what took her halfway around the world. "Penn State and particularly Penn State Brandywine are really committed to the local community; working locally. That's a lot of my philosophy. You start at home," said Guerin.

Welcome home Pauline.

Guerin may be contacted at [email protected].