Monday, April 9, 2007

More Speakers and Hands-on Opportunities: An improved Psychology Program for USC

This weeks post is in accordance with the 2007 University of Southern California’s College Dean’s Prize for the Enrichment of Student Academic Life. Responding to the following is required to gain candidacy for the award, “How would you go about making the educational experience at USC College even better?” My experience as a psychology student from the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences (top left) has been incredibly enriching and rewarding, yet, I feel that providing students with more real-world experience can improve the psychology program at USC. “Faculty in the Psychology Department are engaged in ground-breaking research on a wide range of topics,” however, students need to be given the opportunity to exploit their resources as well. USC’s strategic plan stresses the importance of focusing on the needs of students rather than the structure and needs of the teaching institution. It emphasizes an innovative “learner-centered” approach to education in which every student’s needs are taken into consideration. The document states, “Traditional lecture courses will decline, giving way to a variety of more flexible and interactive approaches to learning.” This can easily be accomplished by bring more speakers into the classroom and by providing students the opportunity to do more hands-on work.

Speakers expose students to a realm of reality that is not provided in textbooks of related material. Psychology Professor Patricia Mullins believes that speakers “are able to convey current, realistic information and a perspective on a subject that is not available from textbooks.” It is important to cater to the learning demands of all students. USC’s mission statement reads, “Our first priority as faculty and staff is the education of our students, from freshmen to postdoctorals, through a broad array of academic, professional, extracurricular and athletic programs of the first rank.” Some students can read a book and feel competent with the material, yet for others, day-to-day accounts from professionals on a subject area are more beneficial. In the psychology program, for instance, a professor for clinical psychology can invite a renowned cognitive behavior therapist, such as Albert Ellis who can enlighten with anecdotes and personal experiences as the creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Thus, providing students with direct accounts of the benefits and challenges in the field. This information can either turn a student away from a practice or inspire interest. In case of the latter, it is important for students to have an array of contacts in the professional arena and speakers are great for networking purposes.

Hence, another method for aiding students in the quest of career discovery is real world experience through hands-on work alongside experts. This can be made possible with the development of field-specific laboratories that would introduce students to a more realistic environment. Stanford psychology’s website asserts, “It has been the leading psychology department among American universities for decades.” Perhaps this is due to the seventeen laboratories located within the university. Such as, the cognitive development laboratory (seen to the right), and the mood and anxiety disorders laboratory, and are available for Stanford students to volunteer in. The interdisciplinary collaboration provided by these facilities is especially important for students who are indecisive or confused about what field to pursue. By volunteering in various laboratories the student will be able to narrow down the numerous options available. USC can provide a similar program. Laboratories would take months to build; thus, the equivalent can be accomplished through workshops where students, for instance, interact and assess behavior of children with autism or mental retardation as part of a child development course.

It is important for students to become active participants in their learning experience especially when there are so many available fields to follow and so little time to choose. Without experience it is difficult for a psychology scholar to be confident they are making the right career choice. “The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” The mind cannot fully be developed with mere classroom interaction. Individuals need exposure to the options allocated to every possible profession. Were this opportunity made possible, the psychology undergraduate would no longer experience emotions of perplexity when deciding what path to pursue.