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Psyched Up About Teaching

Psyched Up About Teaching

Nicole Y. Weekes

Title: Assistant Professor, Psychology, Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.

Education: Ph.D. and M.A., Psychology,
University of California, Los Angeles; B.A., Psychology, Boston University

Age: 35

When Dr. Nicole Weekes was a new assistant psychology professor at Pomona College in California, her then-department chairman, Dr. Richard Lewis, noticed long lines of students outside of her office.

“That either meant that she was very popular with the students or that they were having extraordinary problems in her classes,” Lewis says. “Fortunately for us it was the former. Her teaching evaluations were off the charts.”

Since she arrived at Pomona in 1998, Weekes has made her mark as a teacher and a researcher. Last year the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) named Weekes the California Professor of the Year for the Advancement of Teaching. The award recognizes an outstanding undergraduate instructor who influences the lives and careers of students. Another accolade for Weekes came in 1996 at UCLA when she was chosen Graduate Woman of the Year in the Department of Psychology. The same year Weekes also was named the Shepord Ivory Franz Distinguished Teaching Assistant of the Year.

Many scholars remember the exact moment when a professor’s words or a passage in a book ignited their career interest. For Weekes, whose interest is neuropsychology, that moment came in an undergraduate psychology course at Boston University.

“At first I was interested in the id and the ego. But when I learned about physiology and neurology, I wanted to understand the brain,” she says.

Weekes, 35, is a native of Los Angeles, the daughter of a lawyer and a pharmaceutical saleswoman.

After graduating summa cum laude from Boston University, Weekes moved back to California to obtain her master’s and doctorate in psychology at UCLA. Today she teaches introductory and upper-level undergraduate classes, including “Psychological Approaches to the Study of People,” “Foundations in Neuroscience,” “Human Neuropsychology” and “The Biological Basis of Psychology.”

Her most recent research has been the connection of psychological and biological stress. Weekes also is becoming known for her research in the ways that stress levels affect memory. She and Lewis have received National Science Foundation grants to study stress, memory and brain activity.

One study, assisted by undergraduate student Jane MacLean, looks at how men and women answered questions about stress differently. Men tended not to correlate specific stress factors, such as financial problems, to their health, whereas women immediately did so. The studies may assist researchers and physicians in how they pose questions to men and women.

Lewis, who heads the Neuroscience and the Medical Science Committee, notes that while he is one of those teachers who is always ready to try new technology to help students learn better, Weekes is more low-tech.

“Many of us need whatever tricks we can get our hands on to make our classes more interesting. Nicole prefers to do it with only a piece of chalk,” Lewis says. “When she came back from her first sabbatical, she told me she was going to try PowerPoint in her classes. Within a couple of weeks she tossed it aside. She told me it was interfering with her classroom style.”

Lewis has taught with Weekes and says she is able to facilitate interest with her own rather raucous teaching style. She uses her energy and her enthusiasm to engage her students, as well as to develop rapport with them, he says. Colleagues are impressed with Weekes’ skill at incorporating students into her research projects.

“They are equal partners in the research project, contributing to every aspect of the studies, including design, data collection, analysis, interpretation and publication,” Lewis says. “Nicole was integrating students into her research as soon as she arrived and by the end of the year, she was taking students to conferences to present their work, and working with them on publications.”

Weekes’ word of advice to students is to pursue only what truly interests them.

“The pursuit of something that really excites you serves as fuel,” Weekes says. “It gets you through the difficult times.”

— By Eleanor Lee Yates

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