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Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008

Cynthia O'Dell

President's Award

Associate Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
University Graduate School
Indiana University Northwest
Appointed to IU faculty, 1994
B.S., University of South Carolina, 1985
M.A., Emory University, 1990
Ph.D., Emory University, 1993

"She is able to integrate our students into her laboratory, serves as a model of a strong, competent scientist, infects them with her enthusiasm, inspires them to think deeply, and encourages them to grow."

--Stephanie Smith, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University Northwest

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn," said noted librarian John Cotton Dana. This is a guiding principle for Associate Professor Cynthia O'Dell, who teaches psychology and women's studies at IU Northwest.

Cynthia O'Dell

Cynthia O'Dell

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While teaching a broad range of courses from introductory psychology to senior laboratory courses, she seeks to expand her own knowledge as well as that of her students by conducting research in teaching and learning, as well as in experimental psychology.

She has also undertaken, with colleague Mark Hoyert, an intervention study designed to increase learning goal orientation and emphasize the incremental nature of intelligence for at-risk students in freshman-level courses. O'Dell and Hoyert initiated the research to better understand their students who struggle with college courses and ultimately to help them improve their grades and stay in school.

The result of O'Dell's commitment to teaching and learning, her students and colleagues agree, is a model teacher. She has been recognized for her contributions with three Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards, three Trustees Teaching Awards, and the IU Northwest Founders Day Teaching Award, and she is a member of Faculty Colloquium for Excellence in Teaching.

Colleague Stephanie Smith writes that it is "obvious from her written evaluations that Dr. O'Dell brings a rare sense of excitement to her classes, that students feed off of the enthusiasm, learn, enjoy it, and feel they have profited from the course, whether they are psychology majors or satisfying a distribution requirement."

Charles P. Gallmeier, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, has observed Professor O'Dell's classes, and he describes her teaching in upper-level courses: She "becomes a mentor as well as a teacher. . . . [she] guides her students through the process in a way that makes them feel like experts, like experienced researchers. Their interest is obvious and their enthusiasm is genuine. Professor O'Dell creates this enthusiasm because of her generosity as a teacher. She enjoys what she does and it shows."

She offers psychology majors an opportunity to participate in her ongoing research program on sensation and perception. "Having the chance to work in a research laboratory as an undergraduate was the transformative experience of my undergraduate education and led me to graduate school," explains O'Dell. "I hope that I am able to pass along some of the magic that I enjoyed to students working in my laboratory. In turn they continually provide me with a fresh look at the topics we are working on and unflagging energy and enthusiasm."

More than 20 of her students have presented posters of collaborative work at regional and national conferences in psychology. And an equal number have been accepted into graduate school or medical school. Most stay in touch with O'Dell, providing periodic updates on their schooling and lives.

Since 2003 she has also served as director of women's studies at IU Northwest. O'Dell also organizes the annual "Celebrating our Students (WOST) undergraduate research conference and mentors students from the local conference to attend the annual all IU Gender Studies Conference. Her contributions to the Department of Psychology include helping the department develop assessment procedures, adopting introductory textbooks, and planning advising programs.

Professor O'Dell seeks to empower her students: "I try to provide a classroom setting in which many voices can be heard and their questions and opinions valued," she writes in her philosophy of teaching statement. "I strive to have my teaching offer students the opportunity to strengthen personal characteristics such as maturity, tolerance, flexibility, high ethical standards, and a positive attitude toward lifelong learning."

Whether she's teaching a large lecture section or a small upper-level class, students respond with enthusiasm. A student in Introductory Psychology I wrote: "Dr. O'Dell brought such a high level of excitement . . . it was contagious. She is magnificent."

A colleague sums up Professor O'Dell's excellence in teaching: "Dr. O'Dell has demonstrated herself as a teacher of the highest caliber -- a teacher that we could all learn from."