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William C, Aitken, Jr., PH.D. ('64)
Professor of Psychology, Norfolk State University, Retired
1. What was your favorite experience when you were majoring in psychology at Oglethorpe?
I changed majors to psychology when I transferred to Oglethorpe, so naturally a favorite experience was learning about an entirely new way of thinking about people and their behavior. My application to OU was really a rather chance event. My father, a pharmaceutical company executive, had been transferred to Atlanta. I had never heard of Oglethorpe until we moved here, but it seemed to be (somehow felt like) the kind of place that I wanted to continue my studies. I had wanted earlier to look into psychology but had not had the opportunity. I’m not quite sure, therefore, exactly what drew me to the field of study, but something was tugging at me. Psychology’s scientific, empirical approach appealed greatly to me. A few other favorite experiences while studying psychology at OU, which enhanced my experience as a psychology major, were the Core Curriculum (it made everything I was learning fit together) and the overwhelmingly positive, motivating support of most faculty across the school. An unofficial ‘minor’ in philosophy was another major ingredient. Oglethorpe University opened up whole new worlds and new ways of thinking in general that I had never experienced before. So I guess I have to say that my experience at Oglethorpe in general was as important to me as that in my major. It all acted like a unified whole that left me wanting more.
2. What was your favorite psychology class and why?
This is a tough one. I guess I would have to say Experimental Psychology and Social Psychology (I took Comparative, Statistics, and Experimental Analysis of Behavior at Emory and I also enjoyed the first and last of these three as well.) Experimental because of its empirical emphasis and actually doing experiments that demonstrated the power of the methodology, and Social because it focused on the more human and social (duh!) aspects of people. Introductory Psychology and Child & Adolescent were also favorites because of the professor.
3. What did you do immediately following graduation from OU and how did it affect your path in life to date?
Immediately upon graduation from Oglethorpe I entered the General Experimental Psychology Masters program at the University of Georgia and, upon graduation with my MS, I entered the PhD program at Georgia State University in physiological psychology. With my newly-minted PhD in 1974 I took a position in the Psychology Department at Norfolk State University (part of the State university system, with approx. 7000 students) in Norfolk, VA. It was there that I discovered that I absolutely LOVED teaching. NSU was then a relatively new (40 yr. history) university and the psychology department was just beginning to expand and strengthen the department with doctoral psychologists. As the department grew my colleagues were primarily clinical, social and community psychologists, as was consistent with the mission of the department (and the school). I became “the” experimental psychologist in the department. Thus I got to teach all of the ‘experimentally-oriented’ classes. However, I also have always taken a broad generalist view. My major specialization was brain-behavior mechanisms (especially limbic system), but my interests include most areas of psychology, as well as many of the other sciences. (Some biology colleagues wondered aloud at times why I wasn’t in their department. I was after all a biological psychologist, but they simply didn’t understand how the behavioral perspective differed from their own, in general.) I sought to maintain this generalist perspective throughout graduate training which gave me an ability to apply broadly.
4. What are you doing today and what inspired you to enter that field/profession/position?
I am retired today. When I retired some time ago, I continued as a Community Faculty member at EVMS and for a while volunteered in the PsyD program as their need dictated. In the PsyD program I served several years after retirement on the Admissions Committee. At EVMS, I spent 24 years working in admissions, and the latter 6 years working in the areas of curriculum and on the Medical Education Committee. Eventually I may retire from retirement. My training and perspective, beginning at Oglethorpe, is a primary factor that has allowed me to do all this. I continue to serve on the SEPA Program Committee, reviewing abstracts for presentations/posters for inclusion in the annual meeting. I also served on the Oglethorpe Alumni Association Board of Directors for ten years, as well as on the President’s Advisory Council for 2 years. You can extend your career to the extent you wish with the desire and sound training that is available to you at Oglethorpe.
5. How do you use your psychology undergraduate experience in your work or life today?
A sound Liberal Arts education, which was contributed to greatly by the OU Core Curriculum, was every bit as important to my study and development as a psychology major or as a psychologist, as my psychology course work and out-of-class psychology experiences at OU. I cannot emphasize this enough, both from comparison to the teaching methods of the school I transferred in from, and from a lifelong academic career in psychology of my own. I transferred into OU from another well respected “liberal arts” institution (biology major, pre-med). At my previous college, each course was taught in seeming isolation from all others, and the relationships of the content of various course areas was left entirely up to the student to figure out. I did not thrive in that atmosphere. The OU Core curriculum of my day, and as far as I can tell still today (I have investigated this matter quite thoroughly, even sat in on some Core and other classes), informs you of the relationships between ideas in various courses and areas of academic and life study. As a psychology major, and a psychologist in training, it is important to understand and attend to the relationships between ideas and concepts in life and thinking, to understand what problem solving attempts have already been tried in the past and their outcomes, and to always be aware of and compare all other possible perspectives to your own of the moment, throughout one’s career (as a psychologist or in whatever career chosen).
6. What advice do you have for students earning a degree in psychology at OU or who might be considering your profession?
I recommend maintaining as generalist a perspective as possible (while still maintaining specialties). To me, it’s a matter of being a psychologist (the noun) first, and then whatever the adjective preceding it in your identified specialty. It pays off! Solid training and a generalist perspective has allowed me to be useful in a variety of settings, adding to the overall fulfillment my career has provided. The same is true for any chosen area of psychology, as well as for the myriad of other careers you may end up in, in terms of applying your undergraduate psychology study and training. The strength and discipline of your training, the foundation for which you are getting at OU, and maintaining your breadth of interests, seems to me to be key to life-long fulfillment in any career. Undergraduate study of psychology can prepare you for a very wide potential of usefulness in just about any career area (business, communications, health services, whatever). Learn it well and use it.