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Showcasing our Expertise in Psychology

TC Celebrates the Promise of Psychology at Inaugural Cross-Departmental Conference

Watch video clips from the conference.

Hundreds of faculty, students and practitioners participated in or attended Teachers College’s inaugural cross-psychology conference in April, “The Promise of Psychology at TC,” a shared showcase for the vast array of work by psychology faculty and students across the College.

Organized by the Psychology Faculty Coordinating Committee, formed at the College a year ago, the conference reflected a broader effort to raise the visibility of the many different psychology programs that have been an integral part of TC since its inception. The conference highlighted the work of those programs, promoted inter-program awareness and collaboration, and established a more robust sense of community for Psychology at the College, where nearly a third of full-time tenure-track faculty are psychologists.

From keynote addresses delivered by leading TC psychology faculty to panel discussions on topics ranging from the social justice applications of psychology to TC’s many global initiatives, the clear message of the day was that “psychology at Teachers College is stronger, more cohesive, and more collaborative than ever,” President Susan Fuhrman said in her opening remarks.

Promise of Psychology @ TC Conference

Fuhrman noted the central role TC faculty and students play in developing solutions to the great problems of the world—something TC has prided itself on doing ever since Edward L. Thorndike launched the field of educational psychology in 1899. So much of what makes TC unique, Fuhrman said, is that psychology is fundamental to the College’s broader outlook, and psychology efforts across many different departments and programs have had an enormous impact on the work of the College in almost every discipline.

“Psychology at TC not only is at the forefront in addressing the seemingly intractable problems of today’s world; psychology also plays an indispensible role in all our work to advance teaching and learning for the betterment of all,” Fuhrman said.

Conference attendees heard keynote addresses from three prominent TC psychology faculty members: Professor of Psychology and Education Peter Coleman, Associate Professor of Cognitive Studies Xiaodong Lin, and Professor of Psychology and Education George A. Bonanno.


Coleman, who also directs TC’s International Center for Cooperation & Conflict Resolution, outlined “four thematic areas that we believe makes psychology at TC distinct”—social justice, learning and cognition, evidence-based science and practice, and an emphasis on both local and global impact. In a very real sense those themes have been present throughout TC’s history, Coleman said, reflecting “the extraordinary impact that psychologists and psychology have had on Teachers College.”

“Dewey and Thorndike were both presidents of the American Psychological Association, and their colleagues and students really helped launch and shape this institution so that psychological thinking and psychological science and evidence is woven into how TC does its work.”

Today, the College offers 30 psychology degree programs; is home to 16 psychology-affiliated research centers; includes 44 full-time faculty members, lecturers and instructors; and enrolls 24 percent of its students in psychology programs.

“Since 1981, we have issued over 1,000 psychology doctorates and more than 12,000 psychology master’s degrees,” Coleman said, “so we truly are populating the field.”


Lin shared her findings about student motivation, which indicated that students who learned about the struggles of successful scientists actually got higher grades than those who only learned about the scientists’ successes. “Maybe sharing struggles can create a very powerful natural link among people regardless of race, regardless of power and gender,” she said. “Schools really should create a culture talking about failure; it’s OK to normalize struggle, [to] humanize our science textbooks. Telling students what it takes to succeed really matters.”


Bonanno, an expert on resilience, spoke about the documented human capacity for “flexibility” in the face of trauma.  In studies of people coping with extreme events, including traumatic injury, hospitalization following heart attack and surviving a terrorist attack, his lab and others have found that “over 60 percent essentially showed no symptoms at all” of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even in people left paralyzed for life from spinal cord injuries, the majority showed no PTSD symptoms and nearly two-thirds had normal levels of anxiety. Still, the aggregate data can mask important nuances in people with differing circumstances. “You need to know these distinctions to provide effective treatment,” Bonanno said.


At a panel on “Research at the Intersection of Science and Practice” moderated by Associate Professor of Psychology and Education Caryn J. Block, faculty members Barry Farber, Laudan Jahromi and Herb Ginsburg discussed the nexus between theory and practice in applied psychology efforts.  

In “Social Justice and Psychology at TC: Engagement, Empowerment and Advocacy,” Associate Professor of Psychology and Education Marie L. Miville anchored a conversation with faculty members Laura Smith, Melanie Brewster, Gregory Payton and Elizabeth Fraga about infusing psychology interventions with a social justice framework.

Associate Professor of Psychology and Education Helen Verdeli led a panel on “Local Relevance/Global Reach,” with faculty members John Allegrante, Marla Brassard and Lisa Miller, which discussed TC’s partnership development with communities around the world; adaptation of content and delivery methods for local relevance; and mutual knowledge-sharing and capacity building through training and research.

Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications & Education John Black led a panel on “Learning and Cognition” with faculty members Cathy Chase, Ryan Baker, and Stephen Peverly, discussed a range of new understandings of cognition and the way people learn that can help improve learning outcomes for students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

[Read more about the four panel discussions.]

The day-long conference included two poster sessions showcasing student and faculty research across psychology programs. Highlights included:

  • Research by Social-Organizational Psychology Ph.D. candidate Asha Gipson, conducted with Professor of Psychology & Education Loriann Roberson, focused on the “leadership gap” between men and women and. Gipson said their findings indicate that women who “self-promoted” actually got higher salary increases and bonuses than those who “other-promoted.” (Self-promotion is the term for talking positively about oneself and one’s achievements while “other promotion” means focusing more on the accomplishments of others rather than oneself.)

  • Michael Swart, a Ph.D. candidate in Cognitive Studies in Education, explored what combinations of story narratives and physical gestures are optimal in digital games that teach children fractions. His research team found that novice learners do better in more abstract environments using abstracted (pointing) gestures, while more proficient learners benefit from narratives that offer contextualized opportunities to use physical (e.g., cutting, spanning) gestures to transfer their newly acquired skills to novel problems.

Teachers College has a long and distinguished history in psychology since its founding more than a century ago, and was boosted by the presence of educational psychologist John Dewey, who joined the faculty in 1904. Prominent alumni include Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Rollo May. The faculty has included such influential scholars as Morton Deutsch, a pioneer in the field of conflict resolution, and Edmund Gordon, one of the nation’s pre-eminent experts in educational equity.

TC Trustee Co-chair Jack Hyland commended the College’s talented faculty and students in the psychology fields, calling it a “privilege to witness the birth, growth and maturation of exciting new fields that change the way we learn, and think, and engage with the world around us.”

He continued, “I cheered the launch of the Sexuality, Women & Gender Project and Latino/Latina Bilingual Concentration. I saluted TC for launching the Eisenhower Leader Development Program at West Point a decade ago and the Resilience Center for Veterans and Families last fall. I stood in awe of our work in education technology, including the launch of Learning Analytics. I am proud of the work of TC’s Global Mental Health Lab, especially in response to the refugee crisis. And I awed by the influence and prestige of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution.”

TC Provost Tom James congratulated the College’s psychology faculty members for coming together to create the conference.

“Robert Maynard Hutchins, the great president of the University of Chicago, was once asked to describe what a university is, and he said, ‘It’s a set of isolated faculty offices connected by a heating system,’” James said, to laughter. “Well, the whole story you’re seeing here today is very much the opposite. It’s about academic community. It’s about learning how to envision together, how to share, how to reinforce mutually. It’s a great story, and it’s setting an example for all of our fields.”

Fuhrman also noted the leadership of Coleman and the Psychology Faculty Coordinating Committee as well as Provost James’s support in working to bring greater visibility to psychology at TC. “The conference is a vivid demonstration of the power of cross-disciplinary collaboration when this kind of work is encouraged, incentivized, and supported,” she said.

Published Thursday, May 12, 2016

Peter Coleman
Peter Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education
Xiaodong Lin
Xiaodong Lin, Associate Professor of Cognitive Studies
George Bonanno
George Bonanno, Professor of Clinical Psychology
Faculty Panel
Herb Ginsburg, Jacob H. Schiff Foundations Professor of Psychology & Education; Laudan Jahromi, Associate Professor of Psychology & Education; Barry Farber, Professor of Psychology and Education
Poster Session
Students from across TC's Psychology programs presented their research at two poster sessions.