Saturday, April 7, 2007

The USC Psychology Department: How To Improve It

The University of Southern California (USC) has always strived to secure its place among the nation’s top universities, as it continues to progress and improve education for its students, in spite of the evolving changes that occur throughout the world. Because USC is a university that plans its future, it may be difficult when “the external environment for higher education is quickly changing in significant [and uncontrollable] ways,” mentioned in the USC 2004 Strategic Plan. Nevertheless, the role and mission of USC continues to be “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” The mission continues, “[o]ur faculty are not simply teachers of the works of others, but active contributors to what is taught, thought and practiced throughout the world,” which is demonstrated through USC’s strong integration of both teaching and research for the purpose of advancing new knowledge. USC’s vision of becoming one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world, as well as its core values for improving education for the future is duly noted in the USC 2004 Strategic Plan, as it states, “[o]ur focus on increasing academic excellence, on hiring the best and most creative faculty, and on encouraging pathbreaking research, must continue to underpin all of our future activities.” Therefore this week's post offers a proposal for improving undergraduate education in the Department of Psychology, my unit on campus, in response to the USC College Dean’s Prize, which calls for suggestions from students to enrich the academic life and educational experience at USC. Based on USC’s mission statement and strategic plan for the next decade, it is note-worthy and sensible that the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, pictured to the left, has created this prize to continue to enhance academic excellence, especially with "intensif[ying] competition among higher education providers." It would only make sense that the Dean would encourage students to give suggestions to help USC strive to be everything it has set out to be, while promoting its flexibility in adapting to change both within and outside of the university.

My proposal for improvement of the undergraduate psychology program, which is encouraged to be "creative and daring," would be to include more guest speakers in the classroom setting, or even as a separate event in our Bovard Auditorium. By comparison, the competitive psychology department at Stanford University, which has been the top-ranked program for the past two decades, challenging other institutions, invites numerous guest lecturers from other universities to speak on their current research in psychology. Several speakers include Daniel Pine of the National Institute of Mental Health, Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto, and Max Muenke of the National Human Genome Research Institute. An array of positive feedback on these lectures has been received, one of which states, “[m]any students find it an enlightening experience to hear firsthand about recent studies in these lectures.” Stanford even holds a reception afterwards that allows students to ask questions regarding the research. Despite the various accomplishments in psychology at USC, including state-of-the-art research facilities and the Psi Chi Honor Society, I have realized that, in learning about this colloquium series, this is a valuable experience that USC lacks in psychology. While USC aspires to greatness, there are still other commendable programs or ideas from other highly ranked institutions that can be worthwhile to USC.

Just as the College Dean’s Prize website mentions the example of a “speaker series on Becoming a Physician,” it would be highly beneficial for psychology students to have an opportunity to listen directly to psychology researchers, social workers, or psychologists who do work in the field. Psychology is a broad domain, encompassing many different approaches to the study of the brain and human behavior, and these events would enable students to obtain an understanding of the work involved in a particular dimension of psychology, as well as make them aware of the various opportunities that are available following graduation. I think that this could only broaden students’ horizons, further engaging them in their career of interest, and making them better suited for deciding what particular path to take within psychology. While the psychology professors at USC are extremely qualified individuals, listening to others from all different avenues of psychology talk about the research they have conducted or the work they perform in the field would be an inspirational, educational, and informative experience. For instance, there are a number of unique examples including Dr. Tara Victor, who could speak on the problems of malingering in a mentally retarded population, Robert Ressler, founder of the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program could speak on criminal profiling, and Dr. Ellen Markman, one of the nation’s leading developmental psychologists could educate on cognitive and developmental psychology.

The proposal for more guest speakers, whether they present themselves within a particular psychology class or in an auditorium for a wider number of attendees, will not just serve the needs of the students, but also those of the university and community at large. Part of the vision for USC’s future is “becoming a major force in addressing critical issues facing society and creating new societal opportunities,” and “creat[ing] solutions to the pressing concerns of society.” USC intends to “advance knowledge” and “address issues critical to our community, the nation, and the world.” The only way these needs can be met is through the proliferation of knowledge to the masses so that more people can get involved and take action. Much of psychology can be applied in every day life, especially concerning “critical issues facing society,” such as the problem of eating disorders to name one relevant example, because psychology attempts to explain behavior and social interaction. While this proposal is both rewarding and influential, it is also feasible, with a high potential for successful implementation given the necessary funds to contact and welcome such esteemed individuals. If this suggestion were to be implemented at USC, not only would current undergraduates be enriched, but also the next cohort of students that follow would be more inspired, scholarly, and robust, bringing about greater changes for our future.

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