Dian Ratna Sawitri’s interest in helping adolescents learn to make career choices grew out of her own experiences.
“When I was in high school, I was really confused. I found it difficult to decide on a career because I had a lack of information and role models. I was good in physics and mathematics, but I didn’t like those areas.”
Sawitri, who is currently a visiting Fulbright scholar at the School of Education, discovered many other young people in her native Indonesia were facing similar struggles.
That led her to choose educational psychology as a way of addressing those important decision-making issues. She’s particularly interested in how young adults make their career choices, and looking at the influences culture has on how they make choices.
An assistant professor on the psychology faculty at Diponegoro University in Indonesia, she came to UWM to continue her research in that area with Nadya Fouad, distinguished professor of educational psychology.
“I knew Dr. Fouad was an expert in career development and multicultural career counseling, and she was one of my dissertation examiners at Griffith University (in Australia).
In Indonesia, she teaches classes in guidance and counseling, educational psychology, and developmental psychology. Here at UWM, she has been a guest lecturer in Fouad’s UWM Foundation of Career Development class. She’s also had the opportunity to attend a conference and present at a number of workshops around the United States since she arrived in September.
Her research has focused on Indonesian young people and how they make career choices, and she’s excited, she said, about comparing their decision making with that of their counterparts in the United States.
The cross-cultural research project she is working on right now involves 300 students in Indonesia and approximately 200 in the United States.
Based on her previous work, she sees some key differences between the two countries in how young people choose career paths.
In Indonesia, for example, parent and family expectations weigh much more heavily in the process.
“The influence of the family on careers is different and the characteristics of adolescents are also different,” she said. “Young people expect their parents to be more involved.”
That doesn’t mean U.S. parents aren’t involved, she added, but their influence is less part of the culture than it is in Indonesia.
“Many problems in Indonesia are based on differences between parent expectations and adolescent performance,” she said. That “parent-adolescent career congruence” is one variable she has been studying.
“Problems will show up when parents and students have different expectations,” she said. “Adolescents need to master the skill of reconciling their own competencies with their parent’s expectations.”
The other area she is researching across cultures is the young people’s “self-efficacy,” or sense of their own abilities. In the U.S. students who earn “B”s and “C”s in mathematics may consider themselves good at math. In Indonesia, even those who earn “A’s” will say they are not very good at math. “They (the Indonesian students) tend to be much more modest about their abilities.”
Sawitri’s family has come with her to the U.S. She and her husband have a 12-year-old daughter who is attending Hartford University School near the UWM campus.
The family spent three years in Australia while she worked on her doctorate. “I really enjoy new things and new experiences. That’s a good thing for me and my family.”
She has enjoyed meeting new people from multicultural backgrounds at UWM and in Milwaukee, she said, and has also gotten to know the small – “perhaps ten” – members of the local Indonesian community.
She will finish her Fulbright experience here at UWM in January, but plans to continue her collaborations with U.S. experts in her field.
“I am really interested in cross-cultural studies, and this has been a good opportunity to network with many people in the field.”
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