One Graduate's Journey to a Successful Career

One Graduate's Journey to a Successful Career

Photo courtesy of Dr. Alex Beaujean '99.

by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio

January 30, 2009

Naturally, we love to see our graduates succeed. Take, for instance, Dr. Alex Beaujean ’99, who now serves as assistant professor of educational psychology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. With Ph.D.s in school psychology and educational psychology from the University of Missouri, Beaujean is a perfect example of what a Cedarville University student can accomplish with a little bit of encouragement and a whole lot of ambition.

Recently, we asked Beaujean to tell us about his Cedarville experience, and he shared with us — as only he can — just what having good mentors at the University has done for him in his career … and as a person.

What is your current position and how did you get there?
I am an assistant professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. I got here by SUV (ha ha). Actually, I completed a pre-doctoral internship in psychology from 2005 to 2006 at Applewood Centers, Inc./Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. From there, Baylor offered me a professorship in educational statistics/measurement, and I have been here since the fall of 2006.

Who were your mentors at Cedarville University?
Since I had a double major in psychology and history, I also had two mentors as an undergraduate student — Dr. Chi-en Hwang, professor of psychology, and Dr. James McGoldrick, professor emeritus of history.

Dr. Michael Firmin, who is now chair of the psychology department, arrived at Cedarville in 1999, and I graduated the fall of that year. I remember attending his job talk and a few outside-of-class activities he did (e.g., preparing for the GRE). We met again at a conference of the American Psychological Association in 2004 and developed several ideas for some collaborative work. We have been working together ever since.

What kind of guidance did your mentors give you?
Dr. Hwang helped me begin to see that psychology involved more than just counseling. She taught all my psychology research and statistics classes — the content of which made up most of the curriculum for my educational psychology Ph.D. After I graduated in 1999, she also helped me get a job at Wright State University, working with aviation psychologist Dr. Pamela Tsang. Dr. Tsang and Dr. Hwang were quite influential in helping me re-conceptualize psychology: from a profession that only involved helping others to a science that is interested in better understanding humanity. They were also the individuals who first planted the seeds that would later develop into a love for quantitative methods and psychometrics (the measurement part of psychology).

Dr. McGoldrick taught many of the history classes I took at Cedarville. I was very “wet behind the ears” when I took his first few classes, and he was diligent — very, very diligent — in holding my writing, thinking, and overall scholarship to a very high standard. I did not appreciate his constant critiques of my work until I went to graduate school and realized how well-prepared I was to conduct and write scholarly research papers.

In what other ways did this counsel change the course of your life?
I attribute Dr. Hwang’s counsel to playing an integral part in changing the course of my educational trajectory. When I first started at Cedarville, I wanted to go into counseling (really, psychoanalysis), as I had read much of Sigmund Freud’s works while in high school and wanted to learn more about how the human unconscious influenced people. However, Dr. Hwang very gently showed me that there were many other areas in psychology besides Freud and psychoanalysis. Moreover, she gave me ample opportunities to start building my quantitative and research methods skills. I was able to work on research projects with her and see how she conceptualized hypotheses and conducted data analysis.

In what ways did they challenge you spiritually? Mentally? Academically?
Dr. McGoldrick was probably the professor who challenged me the most at Cedarville. He was my history adviser and taught most of my history classes, so I worked with him quite often in my University career. He continually pushed me to write better, to think sharper, and to be more scholarly in my opinion formation. No matter how many excuses I came up with — and I came up with many! — he never dropped his standards for how he thought my work should appear; he kept challenging me to do better work. I am forever in his debt for this and try to give the same message to my students.

In that regard, how are you passing this legacy on to your current students?
Two ways:
1. I try to show my students the beauty of quantitative methods in psychology and education. Many of the students who take my classes — I teach statistics and measurement classes at Baylor — are anxious about math, numbers, and anything dealing with empirical research … not unlike myself when I first started to take Dr. Hwang’s classes. Consequently, as Dr. Hwang exemplified for me, I try to demonstrate to my students that quantitative methods do not have to be scary; instead, they are an invaluable aspect of a more general hypothetico-deductive framework for psychology.

2. I hold my students to a very high, yet obtainable, standard for the work they complete for me … much to their chagrin at times. I do this because I now know that Dr. McGoldrick’s strictness was far more beneficial to me than had he allowed me to just get by with adequacy. He forced me to be more discerning in how I read articles and more winsome in how I write my opinions. He also made me take the necessary steps to make myself a better scholar. I hope I can do half as much for the students I teach.

Is there any other information about the psych program at Cedarville that you would like to include?
I just visited Cedarville’s psychology department in January 2009 and was very impressed with the transformation that has taken place in the decade since I left. The program seems to have taken many purposeful steps to allow students to have more research and publication experience, which is invaluable if they want to pursue a higher degree.

Moreover, as I walked down the halls and saw multiple peer-reviewed publications and poster presentations that both students and faculty have authored, I was impressed with the scholarly zeitgeist that appears to be permeating the department. I have no doubt that any student currently pursuing a psychology degree at Cedarville will obtain a strong background in the field and have ample opportunities to gain the necessary experiences that will allow them to pursue the graduate degree of their choice.

What about family? Are you married? Children?
No, for better or worse, I pretty much kept my nose in a book while I was at Cedarville. So, I neither have children nor am I married. However, I am taking applications if anyone is interested. :-)