by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio
The department of psychology at Cedarville University takes its program very seriously.
They like to say they want to “mess with your mind.” But that means they intend to challenge students to think biblically, they will mentor them toward excellence, and will actively involve them in stimulating research. And these three primary distinctions are not taken lightly.
Right outside the psychology department offices hangs a large bulletin board with the words: “Understanding Psychology From a Biblical Worldview.”
“That’s not just lip service,” says Dr. Michael Firmin, department chair. “We take that very seriously.”
Dr. Luke Tse, associate professor of psychology, agreed. “Psychology has contributed much to our understanding of ‘being human,’ and Scripture has provided directions for handling that understanding. It is our goal to help students make proper discernment and applications of psychological information and biblical truth.”
The faculty believes courses must be more than academically challenging, more than just comprehending the principles of psychology. They want to teach students to think biblically about all of life … to see how Scripture is a part of everything they do. Because all Cedarville students are required to graduate with a Bible minor, that worldview becomes a natural part of the psychology curriculum.
Firmin tells his students to “pay attention to what you learn in your 9 a.m. Bible class, because you will be using it in the 11 a.m. general psychology course.” As a result, the collegians are better able to evaluate psychology theories and ideas from a biblical perspective.
Of course, the department is also strong academically. For instance, they are hosting the Ohio Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference in April, a real plume for Cedarville University. Dr. Cosette Fox, assistant professor of psychology as well as an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, will serve as director of this year’s conference.
Firmin carries several impressive distinctions, including national conference director for the 20th Annual Ethnographic & Qualitative Research Conference and editor for the Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research. One of the hallmarks of being at the top of your field is editing an academic journal—and these accomplishments help put Cedarville on the map, not only in the world of qualitative research, but in academia in general. Last year, Firmin presented multiple papers at national research conferences, and had over a dozen published.
The high standard of academic excellence trickles down into the student body. With a selective and prestigious admission approval, the average ACT for a Cedarville psychology student is in the 85 percentile. And in the past 10 years, they have seen 40 psychology graduates accepted into doctoral programs. This is a remarkable feat compared to other universities … and a true testament to the one-on-one mentoring provided by the department. . . .
According to Firmin, “Giving personal attention to students is a definite strength of our department.” And, indeed, he considers inspiring greatness in his undergraduates to be one of the highlights of his job. For Tse, who is also a licensed professional counselor and a marriage and family therapist, it is one of the distinctive qualities of Cedarville University that drew him to want to teach here. “When I was told mentoring students was a requirement,” he says, “I knew that I’d found a natural fit. I have appreciated the fact that every psychology faculty look forward to spending time with students.”
The faculty spends individual time with each student, helping them decide vocational goals, inviting them into their homes and offering them acceptance and encouragement. In response, the collegians gain confidence, maturity and motivation, leading to strong candidates prepared to enter any of the many psychological fields available.
Firmin adds: “Mentoring is an important dynamic in our department, which is accomplished during both classroom and extracurricular activities. Building quality relationships with students is part of the fabric of who we are and how we operate at Cedarville.”
When it comes to research, the Cedarville psychology department, once again, prefers to look at things from a different perspective. Not only does the faculty invite students to assist them on their projects, as is typical at universities, they also do the opposite.
For example, Dr. Milt Becknell, associate professor of psychology and board certified clinical health psychologist, says, “More often than not, undergraduate students have only a vague idea of what they would like to investigate, so they align themselves with a faculty member whose clinical and research interests parallel their own.”
Once students express interest in a particular topic, “we assist them in generating those projects,” Firmin says, “becoming collaborators with them. For instance, on research papers, I share authorship with undergraduates, even though they do not yet have a degree. This plays a significant role in helping students find acceptance in the graduate program of their choice.”
The department sees four benefits for students engaging in undergraduate research: the development of critical thinking skills, the opportunity to uncover answers to important life questions, the enhancement to their curriculum vitae, and the boost in self-confidence while, at the same time, undergirding it with a profound sense of humility.
“On the one hand, they will see their hard work pay off when their paper is successfully presented or published in a journal,” says Firmin, “but at the same time they gain a much clearer comprehension of just how much they don’t know.”
For prospective students interested in a degree in psychology, the department at Cedarville University continues to prove itself a Bible-based, academically superior and cutting edge program, preparing undergraduates for a successful career in numerous human service and counseling professions.