CONWAY, Ark. (September 24, 2012) - At her first debate tournament, a 13-year-old Leslie Zorwick was told by a female judge that girls shouldn't be as assertive as boys.
"I didn't really care for that," said Zorwick.
But that comment was a catalyst for a career in social psychology for Dr. Zorwick, who is now a psychology professor and whose principle interests are stereotyping and prejudice.
An Atlanta, Ga. native, Zorwick was "the black sheep" as the only scientist in a family of communicators and debaters. Her father was a high school debate coach and English teacher, and her mother is an adjunct faculty member of educational studies and the debate coach at Emory University, Zorwick's alma mater.
At Emory, Zorwick was a double major in philosophy and psychology "because they only allowed me to pick two," she said.
"I loved them both passionately," she said. "I knew I wanted to go into psychology early on, but philosophy was a broader way of thinking about the same topics."
After earning her bachelor's degree in 2000, Zorwick worked as a research assistant for a communications professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta who was researching terrorism. She traveled to the presidential libraries of George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter to research presidential speeches on terrorism.
She also worked part-time in child development lab at Georgia State and conducted financial audits on Republican candidates for the Democratic Party of Georgia.
"That was pretty bizarre," she said of the latter experience. "It was definitely not something I ever imagined doing."
A year after graduating from Emory, Zorwick went to graduate school at The Ohio State University, which offered her a university fellowship and then a graduate teaching assistantship. During her last two years, she was responsible for coordinating the graduate student instructors who covered 25 sections of a writing-intensive social psychology course.
Her interests in the psychological side of stereotyping and prejudice meshed well with her graduate advisor's interest in gender and identity.
"I was interested in women who are sexist and, generally, why some people don't like groups they belong to and how they make sense of it to themselves," she said, recalling how her first debate tournament judge's remark made her feel. "Social psychology is the scientific study why someone could say that, so my discipline gave me the tools to ask those questions."
During her last year of Ph.D. work in 2006, she applied for teaching jobs.
"The most nervous day of my life was my job interview at Hendrix," she said.
On the night before her interview, Zorwick had dinner with the psychology faculty.
"I just fell in love with department. It sort of felt like, 'Finally … people who want to talk about teaching as much as I do'," she said. "I knew I would love working with these people who were really thinking about pedagogy and making thoughtful decisions about what to do in the classroom, which were conversations I've always wanted to have."
"This was my dream job, and I wanted it so bad," she said. And as a native southerner, she missed "warm winters and fried catfish."
Her feelings toward her colleagues haven't changed since she joined the Hendrix faculty in 2007.
"To be honest, it really is as great as I thought it would be," she said. "I miss these people over summer break, and that's amazing."
"A lot of places look different from the inside than they do from the outside," she said. "But Hendrix was just as it was billed to be."
Zorwick was equally smitten with Hendrix students during her interview.
"They were wonderful and exactly the kind of students I wanted to interact with," she said.
Zorwick covers quite a range of classes at Hendrix, including Introduction to Psychology, Statistics, Social Psychology, Social Cognition, Stereotyping and Prejudice, and Psychology and Law.
She's also taught the college's Journeys and Explorations course for first-year students and enjoys the opportunity to interact with students who are not psychology majors.
"I get to know a lot more students that just psychology majors, and that elevates the discussions I can have in my classes because of the students' multiple perspectives," she said.
In her second year at Hendrix, Zorwick created the Social Psychology Research Interest Group (SPRING) lab, which meets weekly with 10 to 20 students designing, performing, and discussing research.
"They are so hungry for the opportunity, it just blows my mind," she said. "It's also a space for me to grow and branch out depending on topics students are interested in."
With funding support from Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning, she has taken groups of up to 10 students to professional conferences in other states to present their undergraduate research
"There's something very empowering about that to students," she said.
She has also supervised students' Odyssey research projects during the summer. Some of the projects include applying psychology theories on prejudice reduction to urban education programs, studying sports fan identity, and examining stereotypes of Southerners.
"Odyssey was one of the biggest reasons I came to Hendrix," she said. "A lot of institutions espouse the value of internships and undergraduate research, but Hendrix was the only school that actually put money behind that."
Between the end of the spring semester and her summer research schedule, Zorwick has a "phenomenally good time" teaching Social Psychology and Film, a special course she developed for the college's three-week Maymester program.
"It's great because we get to dig into the material without other competing demands on their time," she said of the Maymester course.
In the course, students learn about social psychology theories and how they apply to movies, such as Mean Girls (conformity and obedience), Chicago (desire or motivation to be famous), and Doubt (morality and moral conviction).
"It's a fun way to show students how social psychology gets depicted in media," she said.
It's also one of her favorite classes to prep for. Her husband, whom she met while a graduate student at Ohio State, happily assists her.
For the final project, students propose new movies and themes for the next year's course.
"I can't believe they pay me to teach it, it's so cool," she said.
When she's not preparing for courses or mentoring Odyssey projects, Zorwick enjoys tending to the unofficial mascots of the Psychology Department - her two dogs, Colby and Buster. Colby has appeared in a published book of dog photographs, and Buster can soon be seen on a greeting card.