Future professor leaves class hooked on psychology

By Rob O'Connor '95
Managing Editor

When Leslie Templeton '91 turned in her final exam in Introduction to Psychology to Dr. Chris Spatz '62, she told him, "I just loved this class."

She left the classroom and decided, in the hallway of the Mills Social Sciences Center, that she would be a psychology major.

"I was totally hooked," said Templeton, who is now a psychology professor at her alma mater.

Her post-exam epiphany was just the start.

"Dr. Tim Maxwell's Abnormal Psychology was really interesting to me," she said of one of her undergraduate psychology courses. "He was respectful and compassionate when he talked about mental illness. It was the first time I thought about a methodical and scientific approach to mental illness."

She and her classmates in Dr. Ralph McKenna's Advanced Social Psychology learned basic methodology by doing their own research projects almost independently.

"It was essentially advanced research methods," she said. "There were three to five projects. It was exhausting but so exhilarating. The whole research process was so exciting."

After graduating from Hendrix in 1991, she spent one year in graduate school at the University of Missouri at St. Louis before following her graduate school mentor to the University of Arkansas, where she got her master's and Ph.D.

For her master's thesis, she studied eye-witness memory. She became really interested in gender aspects of psychology, and when she began formulating her ideas for her dissertation, she decided to focus her research on children's cognition about gender information.

"The research was real gender, real cognitive, real developmental ... all rolled into one," she said.

She joined the Hendrix faculty in January 1998 as an adjunct and finished her doctoral dissertation in the spring. She was hired back in fall 1998 on a one-year contract and became a tenure-track faculty member a year later.

As a faculty member, Templeton involves Hendrix students in research, just as her undergraduate mentors did with her. Psychology majors currently account for the largest percentage of Hendrix degrees, and she routinely supervises 30 to 44 student research projects a year.

"I do a lot of research with students in the natural course of the classroom," she said. "So I feed my desire for research that way. It's an incredible amount of work, but it's really satisfying to me."

She's also satisfied at the results of the work that she and her colleagues in psychology have done preparing Hendrix students for success.

"I think our department does a fantastic job, and we have seen really good outcomes," she said. "Our students are accepted into their graduate schools of choice. They get interesting jobs, post-graduate honors, and competitive research positions."

"Internship supervisors at Arkansas Children's Hospital and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences rave about our students' research skills, how competent they are, and how good they are at writing clearly and concisely and presenting their research," she said. "We can't minimize the beneficial value of good oral presenting and good writing skills. It's the culmination of research."

Nurturing those skills in students is deliberate.

"Every class is designed pedagogically to strengthen an academic skill," she said. "We work, work, work to prepare our students to do that really well."

Research-intensive classes and independent student research are critical components.

"We're all at a teaching college because we enjoy those opportunities to teach, mentor and guide, and research is one vehicle for that," she said.

"Doing research is an almost perfect academic experience ... A perfect liberal arts experience," she said. "There's nothing in it that's wasted. Every academic skill is developed ... problem solving, critical thinking."

Templeton's passion for the value of student research is contagious. A student in her Psychology of Gender class told her that she was thinking about her research project while she was in the shower.

"I love it when students get the spark of excitement when they work on a topic and it becomes something they think about when they're otherwise occupied," she said. "It's hard to catch the fire until you have owned the research and come up with the design. That's a fantastic experience for students, and that's the point."

Dr. Templeton lives in Little Rock with her husband and their two sons.