Psychologist Known for Research on Lying Is Innovator of Student Success Programs
“My interest in lying began back in high school,” says Professor of Psychology Robert S. Feldman. But this commentary isn’t a reflection of his personal morals. Feldman studies self-presentation in adults and children, both in terms of nonverbal behavior and how and when they are verbally deceptive. In this research, he looks at how people lie strategically in social interactions and the consequences of this deception. “It all began when I created a lie detector for a physics project,” Feldman recalls. “The device was a bust, but it did kindle a lifelong interest in the topic. Of course, I had no idea then that lying would be a primary focus of my career.”
And what a career it has been so far. In addition to the research on lying, which has been discussed presented in newspaper and magazine articles and television programs around the country and published in numerous scientific journals, Feldman is interested in understanding factors that promote academic success in college students. “In this work,” he says, “I look at ways to help them make the most of their college experience and to increase retention.” He has published a number of books on the subject. P.O.W.E.R. Learning is the only first-year experience text with a unifying system for critical thinking and problem solving. The text is used at hundreds of colleges, universities, and career schools throughout the United States and Canada and has been translated into Chinese and Japanese. Feldman is director of the McGraw-Hill Student Success Center, which offers professional development workshops for faculty who are interested in promoting student success, and edits a monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Student Success.
With interests such as these, it comes as no surprise that Feldman is a teacher par excellence whose College Outstanding Teacher Award “is my most cherished recognition,” he notes. “My teaching and texts have common goals. “I want to nurture students’ understanding and excitement about intellectual pursuits and help them use their knowledge to improve their lives. In important ways, good students are made, not born.”
Innovation seems to run in Feldman’s blood. In his role as director of undergraduate studies in the psychology department, he has put words into action with the Research and Mentoring Program. He also started the first on-campus first-year experience course for students, and is director of Power-Up for Success. “This annual three-day program for first-year students,” Feldman says, “takes place just before the start of classes in the fall, and it’s also available online. Offering a credit toward graduation, it addresses issues like succeeding academically, becoming involved on campus, choosing majors, developing study skills such as effective time management and test-taking strategies, and understanding UMass Amherst resources. Participating in a small class, students receive personal attention and individual feedback. They get to know other students and develop college-level learning skills.” Hundreds have participated over the last four years, and feedback has been enormously positive.
This fall Feldman will be offering a similar course, Strategies for Success, for first-year psychology majors that will extend across the semester. “The goal,” he says, “is eventually to offer the course throughout the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and then to all incoming first-year students on campus. “I also am proud of two other initiatives. One pairs students of color who are psychology majors with a faculty mentor to conduct research and offers a seminar to help prepare them for post-UMass life, including applying for grad school or jobs. The other is the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services Specialization Program. With support from the state Department of Mental Retardation, it places students in supervised internships and offers a series of courses. Every student who has completed the specialization and wanted to work in human services has received job offers to do so.”
Feldman, who has been at UMass Amherst since 1978, has been a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and Lecturer and has written more than 100 books, book chapters, and scientific articles. His research has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research. “UMass Amherst is a very seductive place,” Feldman says. “One reason is the students. They have been superb, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels and not just in the sense of academic ability. They are motivated and willing to work hard to maximize their own success. UMass Amherst offers a superlative education—extraordinary faculty who care about teaching, an amazing variety of classes, talented and diverse students. Students simply need to know how to make the most of what’s available.”
May 23, 2006