What do the St. Mary’s and Puget Sound conferences have to do with you? If you are an undergraduate psychology major right now, or possibly even if you are a graduate student, you probably have never even heard of either one. I’m sure you remember from your intro psych class that psychology is a relatively new science, typically described as beginning in 1879 in the Leipzig laboratories of Wilhelm Wundt. This young science has engaged in self-examination over the years since then, often focusing on the best curriculum for educating psychology undergraduate students (Perlman & McCann, 1999). Both the St. Mary’s and Puget Sound conferences involved this kind of self-examination and were sponsored by the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs.
The 1991 National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology, held at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, most likely influenced the structure of your major, your experiences in the classroom, and how you have been advised regardless of where you are pursuing your psychology degree. The 2008 National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology, held this past June at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, may shape undergraduate education in psychology as you finish your degree, and possibly as you begin to teach undergraduate psychology classes yourself.
Based on their work at the St. Mary’s conference, the participating faculty collaborated on a book produced by APA, the Handbook for Enhancing Undergraduate Education in Psychology (McGovern, 1993), which 15 years later is still an excellent resource. The 80 faculty who met recently in Puget Sound are working on a book as well, one that will address current and anticipated issues in undergraduate education, with the working title Undergraduate Education in Psychology: A Blueprint for the Future of the Discipline (Halpern, 2008a). This re-examination of undergraduate education comes at a time when universities and colleges are facing tremendous pressure and competition, when students’ diversity is increasing, and when necessary skills for success in the global economy are constantly changing (Halpern, 2008b).
This past June, Psi Chi National President, Dr. Vincent Prohaska, and I participated in the Puget Sound conference. We, along with other conference participants, worked on one of nine different themes in undergraduate psychology education. The themes included curriculum, teaching, ethics, and diversity, as well as applying research on learning and technological innovations to the art of teaching psychology. Other topics of discussion included: Who teaches psychology courses? Where are psychology courses taught? Who takes psychology courses? What are the learning outcomes after having taken psychology courses? What is the role of online instruction in psychology education? and Should there be affirmative action for men studying psychology?
It was a privilege to have the opportunity to meet and work with this fabulous group of faculty. I had applied to be a participant after being encouraged to do so by Psi Chi’s retiring Executive Director, Dr. Virginia Mathie—one of the faculty who participated in the St. Mary’s conference. As a result of the St. Mary’s conference, she collaborated on the chapter "Promoting Active Learning in Psychology Courses” (Mathie, 1993). She later described in one of her Eye on Psi Chi columns how being an active member of Psi Chi can contribute to quality in undergraduate education (Mathie, 2006). In that column, she referred specifically to the goals developed by the APA for the undergraduate major in psychology (APA, 2002). A newer version of the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major were approved by the APA Council of Representatives in 2006 and may be viewed on the APA website (APA, 2006). The APA guidelines for the undergraduate major focus on student-centered goals; each of the 10 goals begins with "Students will” (APA, 2006, pp. 9-10). While the NCUEP participants definitely considered student learning outcomes, the focus was on a much broader context. Taken together with the APA guidelines for the undergraduate major, however, the final recommendations of the NCUEP participants will represent aspirations for psychology to reach students, faculty, and society in the most productive and meaningful ways.
I am very gratified that Dr. Prohaska and I were able to follow in Dr. Mathie’s footsteps by participating in the Puget Sound conference, and hope that we, and our fellow NCUEP participants, contribute to improving undergraduate education in psychology as much as she and her colleagues did. As Executive Director of Psi Chi, I guess you can say I have large shoes to fill (never mind I am about a foot taller than Dr. Mathie). In addition, I wholeheartedly agree with what she said in her first column for the Eye, "It is a great privilege to be following in the footsteps of my predecessors Ruth Cousins and Kay Wilson” (Mathie, 2004, p. 8). I look forward to continuing her work for Psi Chi on a variety of projects, working with the National Council and National Office staff, and meeting Psi Chi advisors and members around the country.
American Psychological Association. (2002). Undergraduate psychology major learning goals and outcomes: A report. Retrieved December 15, 2005, from http://www.apa.org/ed/pcue/ reports.html
American Psychological Association (2006). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/ed/psymajor_guideline.pdf
Halpern, D. F. (2008a). Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/ed/pcue/blueprint.html? tag=bubbl_3
Halpern, D. F. (2008b). Redesigning undergraduate education in psychology: Imagine the possibilities. Retrieved July 21, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/ed/pcue/ ptn_halpern.pdf
Mathie, V. A. (1993). Promoting active learning in psychology courses. In T. V. McGovern (Ed.), Handbook for enhancing undergraduate education in psychology (pp. 183-214). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Mathie, V. A. (2004, Fall). Celebrating the past— looking to the future. Eye on Psi Chi, 9 (1), 8.
Mathie, V. A. (2006, Spring). Psi Chi’s contributions to quality in undergraduate education. Eye on Psi Chi, 10 (3), 8.
McGovern, T. V. (Ed.). (1993). Handbook for enhancing undergraduate education in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Perlman, B., & McCann, L. I. (1999). The structure of the psychology undergraduate curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 26, 171-176.