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Psychology in the News

Faculty Honored for Excellence in Diversity, Research, and Teaching

Each year, Dean Theresa Lee and members of her cabinet, with help from department heads, recognize faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences for their excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and lifetime achievements.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, we were unable to host the annual awards banquet in-person. Each faculty member received a plaque and congratulations from the dean. We posted a video to the college YouTube channel here, which features each faculty award winner.

Kirsten GonzalezKirsten Gonzalez, assistant professor of psychology, received the Junior Diversity Leadership Award, which recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a junior-level staff or faculty member in support of the college’s and university’s commitment to diversity.

Gonzalez has a longstanding passion and commitment to promoting social justice through research, teaching, and service. Her research and teaching focuses on the psychological well-being of individuals with marginalized identities including racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people. Gonzalez holds leadership roles in the department, university, and profession and is intensely engaged in diversity related activities on campus and in the community. She currently serves as co-chair of the psychology department Diversity Council.

Last summer, Gonzalez served on the team that created and ran the Academics for Black Survival and Wellness training week and had more than 7,000 participants nationally, including faculty and students from UT. As a result of this training, UT is implementing new diversity initiatives and ways to challenge anti-Blackness. Gonzalez gave two well-attended diversity-related talks aimed at educating the broader UT community during the fall 2020 semester, each of which was attended by more than 100 participants. Gonzalez is also very involved in building a partnership between the psychology departments at UT and Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville, that is aimed at creating a comprehensive program to prepare and recruit students of color to graduate programs in psychology generally and to UT in particular.

“I am honored to receive this award and to be acknowledged for my commitment to diversity-related service, scholarship, and social justice work at UT,” Gonzalez said. “I am passionate about contributing to the positive diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the college, including recruiting and retaining more diverse students, faculty, and staff; educating the broader UT community; strengthening community partnerships; and cultivating a warm, welcoming, supportive, and inclusive campus climate.”

As she reflects on her own research on social justice ally development, Gonzalez has learned that each of us have an important role to play.

“Regardless of their identities, all community members have an important role in making UT’s campus a more inclusive and equitable place,” she said. “I encourage every UT community member to join me in finding a way to get involved in diversity and social justice initiatives at UT.”

Excellence in Research Award/Creative Achievement Awards

We seek to recognize faculty members who excel in scholarship and creative activity while also being fully engaged in the other responsibilities of faculty jobs, primarily teaching and service. To this end, the college honors faculty in three stages of their research careers – early, mid, and senior – with awards for excellence in research or creative achievement, as well as honoring a faculty with an award for Distinguished Research Career at UT.

Aaron BussAaron Buss, associate professor of psychology, received an early career research award from the college. Buss is an outstanding scholar whose interdisciplinary research has revolutionized the field of cognitive neuroscience. His research has transformed how we understand the relationship between the brain and behavior by developing a theoretical approach that explains how cognition arises from neural processes. His work is the first offer an explanation, rather than a description, of the relationship between neural processes and behavioral processes. 

Buss’s research is supported by an $1.1 million R01 grant from NIH. He uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity while research participants perform cognitive tasks. The fNIRS is a relatively new technology that is particularly well suited to examine neural processes during early development or in more naturalistic task settings because it only requires the participant to wear a lightweight cap with near-infrared light emitters and detectors.

The central line of his research is in the study of executive function during early childhood. His current R01 is examining how learning changes brain development during early childhood. Children in this project were provided with a card game to play at home between the ages of 2 and 3. He is following these children longitudinally to explore how their brains are changing as they develop new cognitive skills and to determine what impact different types of games have on children’s brain development. Findings from this grant study will not only have an important impact in the study of executive functioning, but also in educational methods or treatments and interventions of developmental disorders.

“I am thrilled to receive this recognition,” Buss said. “To know that the college chose to recognize my work among all the stellar research being conducted by my colleagues is truly an honor.”

Buss also has many active collaborations across campus and across the country and a strong record of publications in top-tier journals across many different areas of psychology including developmental psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and general psychology. 

Interdepartmental Collaborative Scholarship and Research

Some of the most exciting and creative scholarly work takes place at the interface between disciplines, which is why the college recognizes the efforts of those who reach out beyond their departmental and disciplinary borders to explore new areas. This year, the college honors Jacob Levy and Barbara Murphy with the Interdepartmental Collaborative Scholarship and Research Award.

Jacob LevyLevy is an associate professor of psychology and applied personality researcher who studies psychological factors that influence academic and occupational satisfaction and performance. He is particularly interested in examining person-environment fit factors, and performance success in the context of the performing arts.

Murphy, an associate professor of music theory, focuses her research theory pedagogy and technology in music theory. Recent research projects include the incorporation of theatrical improvisation in pedagogy classes, chunking in music dictation, and the development and use of online educational resources in music.

Barbara MurphyProfessors Levy and Murphy first met in fall 2008 when Murphy asked Levy to give a talk on music performance anxiety for students living in the Crescendo LLC. Their meeting led to several collaborations examining the intersection psychology and music pedagogy. Their collaboration is particularly impressive because their interdisciplinary work has been recognized by both of their respective disciplines. To date, their collaboration has led to one published paper, two paper presentations at national conventions in music, and two poster sessions at national conventions in psychology. They have also served together on five dissertation committees in psychology.

“I have loved working with Jake Levy on a range of topics from the musicians’ learning styles to the mental and physical health of music majors,” Murphy said. “For me, this award shows that this kind of interdepartmental collaboration is valued by the college.”

Their collaborative work demonstrates a clear passion for examining and addressing the health, wellness, and educational needs of music students. It is evident by the progress of their work that their studies are developing into a clear, continuing interdisciplinary program of research relevant to both the psychological and music communities.

Each year, the college recognizes tenured and tenure-track faculty excellence in teaching by presenting both junior- and senior-level teaching awards. The lecturer excellence teaching award recognizes lecturers.

Bob DuBoisBob DuBois received a lecturer excellence teaching award from the college. DuBois joined the Department of Psychology as a lecturer and associate director of undergraduate studies in fall 2019 and has made an immediate, exceptionally important contribution to the students, faculty, and staff. He was selected as the department’s Undergraduate Instructor of the Year in his first academic year. He has quickly distinguished himself as one of the most sought after, passionate, and favorably rated, instructors by the undergraduate students, as well as faculty and graduate students.

In his first year, he taught several undergraduate courses and developed and taught two timely graduate courses, including teaching research methods in psychology and teaching psychology online. His course on online teaching was critical to successfully transitioning several psychology faculty members to compassionate and high-quality online and hybrid teaching for the fall 2020 semester.

“As a first generation college graduate, all I do as a learning facilitator is principally inspired by my wish to transform as many students as possible to confident lifelong learners,” DuBois said. “Earning this teaching award – particularly because it is driven by nominations from so many amazing colleagues and students – serves as one of my most joyful of experiences of 2020.”


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