Lander University Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Shana Southard-Dobbs, the winner of this year’s Young Faculty Teaching Award, is a memory researcher.
“More specifically, my area of scholarship is how people think about and remember stressful life events,” she said.
She said that two people in a car accident together might have entirely different reactions, with one brushing it off, and the other developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“A driving question of my research,” she said, “is why those differences?”
PTSD severity is associated with “event centrality,” the degree to which people think about or remember a stressful event as central to their self-concept. The more they define themselves in terms of the traumatic event, the worse their PTSD is likely to be.
Southard-Dobbs, who just finished up her third year at Lander, said that “memory is really, really complex. Every time we retrieve a memory, it sort of gets put back together again, and that’s a chance for the story to change. We can’t ever really know if we’re accurately remembering something, or if that memory has been edited. I think that is endlessly fascinating. It’s one of my favorite topics to discuss with students.”
She tries to empower students to take ownership of their learning.
“I think that’s a key element of my role as an educator. I incorporate some things into my teaching, my course design, the way I interact with my students that is led by that guiding principle,” she said.
Although she teaches a wide range of courses, Introduction to Psychology is a course that she teaches nearly every semester. That means she has a lot of contact with Lander’s first-year students.
“I think that space is really important for helping students get acclimated, get their feet on the ground, and understand what collegiate life is like,” she said.
Like many of her students, Southard-Dobbs was a first-generation college student who changed her major.
“I was a biology major at the time. I took a psychology class as a general education social science, and I fell in love with it,” she said.
She believes that educators play a crucial role in helping students to discover what interests them.
“I benefitted from that greatly in my own collegiate experience, and it is a privilege to be able to have that kind of impact with my own students now,” she said.
A native of Arkansas, Southard-Dobbs earned her Ph.D. at the University of North Texas, where she studied alongside her husband, Benjamin, now a lecturer of music theory at Furman University. The couple live in Greenwood.
Southard-Dobbs’s background in experimental psychology was instrumental in the establishment of Lander’s Stress and Cognition Lab, where she and her students design and carry out research projects to examine how individuals perceive and remember stressful and potentially traumatic life experiences, with the goal of understanding how and why some people are resilient in the face of trauma and others struggle. Her most recent research team presented their project, “The Role of Perceptual and Coping Factors in Trauma Response: Belief in a Just World, Self-Blame, Religious Coping, and Event Centrality,” at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, at Kennesaw State University.
“I’m really proud of that; I’m proud of them,” she said.
Southard-Dobbs is an active researcher, with recent publications in the scholarly journals Cogent Psychology, Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, and Journal of Personality. She contributed material to the book “Clinical Perspectives on Autobiographical Memory,” published by Cambridge University Press, and is involved in several ongoing research studies.
She is also an enthusiastic developer of new courses. In the fall, she will teach an Honors College course she developed, “Forget What You Know: Exploring Human Memory.”
“We’ll talk about memory, about how to leverage what you now know about memory, so you can be a more effective learner. We’re going to dig into autobiographical memory, and the elements of memory that help us to know ourselves, to know our own story. I’m excited to explore that topic with students in a more specialized class,” she said.
Southard-Dobbs was nominated for the Young Faculty Teaching Award by Dr. Jonathan Bassett, chair of Lander’s Department of Psychological Science. He praised her “excellent performance as a classroom teacher” and “exceptional job mentoring students.”
She said the award encourages her to “keep on developing, and keep on growing as a teacher.”