ASU psychology professor loves making a difference

·4 min read

Feb. 23—Susan Owen said she loves teaching so much she can't imagine doing anything else and is thrilled when she knows she has made a difference.

She is an Athens State University psychology professor and chair of the behavioral sciences department.

Owen said she is trained to be a researcher.

"To do research, you need to be in an academic setting," she said, "and so teaching goes along with that — and then, I just fell in love with teaching."

Owen was in graduate school when she decided teaching would be her path. She taught at the University of Kansas for five years while earning her doctorate in social psychology.

Stephen Spencer, Athens State's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has worked with Owen for four years. He said she is an insightful professional and a positive leader.

"Dr. Owen is a great listener, and I have observed her many times actively listening to her colleagues, always seeking to understand diverse perspectives," Spencer said.

Teaching is both the most challenging and most gratifying part of her job, Owen said.

"You really want students to get something out of your classes. You want to give them a different way of looking at things. Sometimes that's challenging," she said. "It's also very gratifying when you see light bulbs go on. When you know you made a difference."

Owen said it "warms my heart" when students keep in touch over the years and let her know how well they are doing and how their careers are going.

A particular former student came to Owen's mind who graduated in 2011. The former student, Owen said, has a master's degree in social work and is applying for a doctorate program.

"It's nice to see a student you have inspired to go on to get a Ph.D.," Owen said. She said a lot of her students go on to graduate school and end up with a master's in social work.

Another former student, Owen said, has since earned master's degrees in sociology and psychology and is going for another master's in public health.

Spender said Owen "is passionate about psychology, and she wants all of her students to succeed."

The pandemic has had a significant impact on Owen's ability to teach. Owen said the faculty was given notice on the Friday before spring break in 2020 that in-person classes would be suspended.

"That spring break, all of us that were teaching traditional classes, had to transform our traditional classes into online classes. ... It meant learning some technology that we weren't so familiar with," Owen said.

Owen said she had a short amount of time to design four classes that would keep students engaged and learning. Not being in a classroom is hard for students and teachers, she said.

After teaching strictly online for the past two years, Owen just this spring semester has started one class, social psychology, back in person. Within the first couple of weeks, three out of the 12 students in that class have contracted COVID.

Owen said the classrooms have changed. There is plexiglass in between each row of desks, and Owen said this makes it hard to see some of her students because of the height of the glass.

However, both the students and Owen are excited to be back in a classroom, she said. Owen teaches four classes total this semester but said "I didn't know how the pandemic was going to go, so I decided to limit it (in person) to one (class)."

She still teaches three other classes remotely.

Pre-COVID, Owen and a colleague had started teaching an applied social psychology course at Limestone Correctional Facility.

"That was another thing that changed with the pandemic," Owen said. "They went on lockdown, and we haven't been able to get back in."

Owen said some ASU students would come and learn alongside the prisoners. Owen said they will resume the classes when they are allowed back into the facility.

Owen said she has a motive for never leaving teaching.

"I can't think of anything I would enjoy more than teaching. I am so fortunate to have a job, a career, that I love. It's never really crossed my mind to do anything else," she said.

—erica.smith@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460.