April 21, 2019  

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New Course in Psychology at USM Designed for First-Year Students

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Christy Oberst, an instructor in the Southern Miss Department of Psychology, teaches a new course offered by the department designed as an orientation for incoming psychology majors, including freshmen and transfer students. (Photo by David Tisdale)

Shawn Arrington’s academic and career path took shape after he enrolled in a new course offered by The University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Psychology.

“Orientation to the Psychology Major” (PSY 203) is designed for the incoming cohort of psychology majors at Southern Miss, including freshmen and new transfer students. The one-hour course meets once a week and was launched in the fall 2017 semester. It focuses on helping students become familiar with the university, engage with the department through meetings with faculty members, establish connections with peers, improve study habits and identify areas of interest in their curriculum, as well as learning about careers in psychology and graduate education in the field.

Students also develop lasting peer relationships through focused small group meetings that further examine class topics, such as “why did I choose psychology” and “how do I engage in the psychology department” in more depth, which supplement traditional class discussions. These groups are facilitated by advanced undergraduate students in the Psychology Scholars Program, as well as a graduate student from the department’s Counseling Psychology Program.

Arrington, a junior from Vossburg, Miss. who transferred to USM from East Mississippi Community College, enrolled in the course for the fall 2017 semester. He said it’s helped him become more confident and “to know what I need to do to get where I want to be,” including connecting with faculty members to identify research and career paths that fit his interests.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Arrington said. “Now, I’m looking at going into school psychology.”

The course was developed by faculty members Dr. Michael Madson and Dr. Bonnie Nicholson, who started an orientation series for new students in the department. They quickly observed the need to design a class that added more structure to the program, based in part on evaluation data collected on the orientation series and in consultation with other programs in the College of Education and Psychology. In the spring of 2017, the course was designed and received university approval.

“The development of original orientation series, and eventually the class, paralleled our development of the Psychology Scholars Program, as we believed both programs would enhance our student success initiatives,” Madson said.

Other goals include having psychology majors engage in the department through groups such as Psychology Club and Psi Chi, as well as working as assistants in faculty research labs.

“In such a large department, it is difficult at times for students to make connections with each other and with faculty. We hope the orientation class will allow new majors an opportunity to foster connections will be sustained as they complete their degree,” Nicholson said.

“Our department offers more than 100 opportunities for regular engagement with faculty research, and this is an outstanding opportunity for student learning, connection and success,” Madson said. 

Veronica Foerg, a freshman from Ocean Springs, Miss. and a fellow student in the same course with Arrington, said it has helped her become more engaged as a psychology major, including networking with her peers, and expanding her knowledge base through the research paper assigned in the course.

“It’s really helped shed light on the opportunities available for psychology majors” she said. 

Christy Oberst, an instructor for the course, said she hopes it creates a sense of community for her students and conveys to them the invaluable resources available in the Department of Psychology. To do this, she’s also brought department colleagues in to make presentations about their areas of interest and research, giving her students insight into the depth and breadth of the field.

“I’ve been really impressed with the students in class this semester,” Oberst said. “They show consistent attendance, are attentive to the faculty visitors each week, ask great questions, and actively participate in the class lectures.”

To learn more about the Southern Miss Department of Psychology, visit https://www.usm.edu/psychology.