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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2007

U.S. Higher Education in a Global Context: A User's Guide
John M. Davis, Psi Chi President, Texas State University-San Marcos

Often, I think, we miss the point that Psi Chi stands for more than psychology. Our purpose is broad. "Psi Chi is a national honor society whose purpose shall be to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology" (Psi Chi Constitution, Article II). Excellent scholarship in all fields is a far-reaching mandate. But, today's complex problems call for far-reaching solutions, solutions often involving interdisciplinary—sometimes even international teamwork. Psi Chi, with more than 20,000 new lifetime members each year, can partner in creating these solutions. To do so, individual members must understand U.S. higher education in global context.
Remarkable for the number and diversity of its institutions of higher learning, the U.S. has 17 of the 20 best universities in the world (Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). Yet our size and our successes may have blinded us to advances made in other countries. Juergen Mlynek, president of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and former president of Humbolt University in Berlin, says, "If we compare our university system to the U.S., on average our universities are better. But we were always missing top universities that were visible internationally" (Feder, 2007, pp. 29-30).
Determined to make a few of its universities equal to the best in the world, Germany has adopted an excellence initiative. On October 13, 2006, the German government announced that Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Karlsruhe will receive generous additional resources and research support enabling them to grow to the status of Harvard, Oxford, and MIT (Feder, 2007).
Germany is not the only country seeking excellence. Universities in India are producing many of the top scientists and engineers in the world. China, too, is rapidly building world-class universities to train its best students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University has begun ranking universities worldwide in order to identify the world's 500 best universities. Rankings are based on objective criteria such as alumni and faculty winning Nobel prizes, publications in prestigious scientific journals, and citation counts (Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). China is sending many of its best students to these universities and also rapidly developing its own university system to comparable levels. In 2004, I visited the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and was favorably impressed with the quality of work being done there by both faculty and students.
As other countries surpass the U.S. in some key areas and compete to catch up with us in others, I urge you to consider seriously the science offerings as you select your courses. We know that the sciences, technology, engineering, and math are crucial for a deep understanding of today's world, yet American university students are not well-represented in these areas. Almost half of computer science students are foreign-born and more than half of the doctorates in engineering are awarded to foreign-born students. Almost 30% of the science and engineering doctorate holders employed in the U.S. are foreign-born as well (U. S. Department of Education, 2006).
In considering these numbers, you can see the importance of combining your study of psychology with increased course work in other sciences, for example, physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics. The fascination of one of these subjects may lure you into a field that will prepare you to make a real difference in your life's work.
Rising globalization and the growing hunger for democracy are also powerful forces in today's world. I urge you to prepare yourself for these forces as well with appropriate coursework. Particularly valuable, I believe, are courses in regional and world geography, regional and world history, English literature and world literature, and at least one foreign language. Such courses will prepare you to better understand and interact with people of other countries and cultures. These courses not only will enrich your life but also will make you more competitive in the job market.
Since my student days, I have followed the above advice. Though my degrees are all in psychology (BA/MAT, Oklahoma City University; MS/PhD, University of Oklahoma), I majored in physics and biology before coming to psychology. I have pursued studies in Germany at the universities in Heidelberg and Erlangen-Nurnberg and in China at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and have taught in Germany, China, and England.
My experiences have convinced me that our universities can provide an excellent education. To take advantage of this, however, you must select wisely from the many choices available. As an honor student, you can have a major impact on our world. Your knowledge of psychology will be invaluable in whatever field or endeavor you choose.
Feder, T. (2007, January). Germany singles out universities for excellence. Physics Today, 60(1), 28-30.
Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (2005). Academic ranking of world universities - 2004. Retrieved on January 24, 2007, from
U. S. Department of Education (2006, September). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Retrieved on January 12, 2007, from

John M. Davis, PhD, was born in 1943 in McAllen, Texas where his father served in the military. After the war, his parents moved to a farm in Oklahoma. There, Dr. Davis learned the importance of hard work and the pleasures of learning about nature while exploring the woods and rivers with his four younger brothers and sisters. His parents emphasized religion and education in a loving family atmosphere and hosted frequent visits from foreign missionary families and from international students at nearby Oklahoma State University. These experiences, as well as interaction with American Indians of the area, stimulated Dr. Davis's fascination with languages and diverse cultures.

Science, agriculture, and music were Dr. Davis's favorite subjects at public school in the small town of Yale, Oklahoma. He graduated with honors and a scholarship to Oklahoma City University (OCU) where he majored in physics. However, as a sophomore he took a psychology course, found it fascinating, took another, and changed his major to psychology. After earning a BA in psychology, he remained at OCU for a MA in teaching with emphasis on psychology and began learning German.

In 1967, he moved to Germany to continue his study of the language and, through a series of serendipitous events, was offered a faculty position teaching psychology at Germany's Schiller International University. He also enrolled at the University of Heidelberg, and later at the University of Erlangen-Nurenberg, for advanced study in psychology and German language and literature. Returning to the United States, Dr. Davis entered the doctoral program at the University of Oklahoma in 1970. In 1974, he completed the PhD in experimental social/personality psychology with a second emphasis in
quantitative/measurement/methodology. He then accepted a position at Texas State University-San Marcos where he is now graduate professor of psychology and director of the Center for International Psychology. At the undergraduate level, he regularly teaches social psychology and statistics. He recently developed and is teaching a course in international psychology, possibly the first in the nation. At the graduate level, he teaches advanced statistics, industrial-social psychology, and health promotion and wellness. He has produced more than 160 scholarly works including journal articles, book chapters, funded grants, and convention presentations, many coauthored with students and colleagues. During a sabbatical leave in 1980-81, Dr. Davis conducted research with Vietnamese refugees in United Nations camps in Hong Kong. While there, he met his wife Carol, who shares his interests in travel and international issues, and his love of the outdoors.

Dr. Davis is a past president of the Southwestern Psychological Association, a Scientific Associate of the Texas/ World Health Organization Collaborating Center, and president elect of the Council of Teachers of Undergraduate Psychology. For many years a commitment to Psi Chi has been central to his professional work. He is proud of the Texas State chapter and continues to enjoy working with its members as coadvisr with Dr. Randall Osborne. He has served two terms as Psi Chi Vice-President, Southwestern Region, and feels honored to have the opportunity for further service to Psi Chi as National President-Elect.

Copyright 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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