When Charles W. Carl Jr., M.D., talks about his 2005 trip to the Navajo Nation—a 27,000 square-mile Native American reservation in the Southwestern U.S.—his voice fills with emotion. Carl and his wife, Dianne, visited the reservation after making a donation to the American Indian College Fund, which works to improve opportunities in higher education for Native Americans. The experience was “profoundly moving,” says Carl, a 1952 graduate of Yale College and 1963 graduate of the School of Medicine. “It turned me on to the need in the Native American community for services, [especially] for child mental health services.”

The trip inspired Carl to donate $450,000 in 2008 to the School of Medicine’s Child Study Center (CSC) to establish an exchange program known as the Charles W. Carl Jr., M.D. Training Fellowship Program in Child Development and Mental Health. Now in its third year, the fellowship enables Native American students and teachers from tribal colleges to visit the CSC for a two-week educational immersion in child development and mental health each July. It will also support the deployment of CSC faculty to reservations and tribal colleges, to increase understanding of Native American culture and child care priorities.

The program’s goal, says Carl, a psychiatrist in private practice in Massachusetts, is “to create a knowledge base and a skill base in the Native American community. There’s a huge need on the reservations for information and training. I hope that by having an exchange, we’ll be able to help Native Americans to help their own people.”

In 2010, the CSC welcomed its first group of five fellows, who attended a structured series of workshops with CSC faculty, informational sessions about research and clinical programs at the CSC and elsewhere on the medical campus, and tours of New Haven and Yale. The fellowship includes travel expenses, lodging, and a small stipend.

The program is already growing, says CSC Director Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., the Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology; in 2011, 13 fellows were accepted from a pool of more than 60 applications. Volkmar says the program is designed to “help people become more aware of the range of excellent clinical and research models, interventions, and other resources that exist. The hope is that it can be inspiring.”