November 22, 2012

S.C. Professor of Year making a difference beyond his classroom

Alliston Reid's research has been published thousands of times, sometimes with profound effects including new ways to detect landmines, track criminals and test the accuracy of photographic identification.

Alliston Reid's research has been published thousands of times, sometimes with profound effects including new ways to detect landmines, track criminals and test the accuracy of photographic identification.

The Wofford College professor is known around the world and students have traveled from other countries to study with him. He is the past president of a leading international society of psychologists and served as the special editor of a noted psychology magazine. He's not shy about using his accomplishments and connections to create positive learning experiences for students, but he said a recent award humbled him.

Reid was named the 2012 South Carolina Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

"It's almost embarrassing," Reid said Tuesday. "I'm singled out, as if I'm unique somehow and I'm not. Any professor (in Wofford's psychology department) is deserving."

Leandra Parris, a doctoral student of school psychology at Georgia State University, disagreed. In the letter of recommendation she wrote for Reid's nomination, Parris told a heart-wrenching story about being an underachieving undergraduate haunted by a friend's untimely death until Reid took a special interest in her.

"He may have seen something in me, a glimmer of potential or a desire to learn I couldn't hide, I'm not sure. But eventually he began to provide the support and push to succeed that I desperately needed," she wrote in her letter.

Reid immersed her in psychological puzzles and provided steady guidance, fostering a passion for the field, she said. She still depends on that guidance, and said she contacts him "at least once a year" for advice.

Teachers are nominated for the annual U.S. Professor of the Year award by their colleges or universities. The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation convene three boards, each charged with narrowing the field until winners are selected. Reid and 30 other recipients were honored last week in Washington D.C. at a luncheon and congressional reception.

Reid graduated from Wofford College in 1975, and when he left he had a vague idea he might want to teach at his alma mater, but decided a research institution would provide him more opportunities.

About 17 years ago, Reid said he was working at Eastern Oregon University when his Wofford College mentor and close friend John Pilley told him most of the psychology faculty at Wofford was about to retire and the department needed to be rebuilt. He asked his former student to interview and Reid soon became the new chairman of the department.

"One of the greatest attributes of Wofford's psychology department is the relationship with students," Reid said. " When I think about what gives my life meaning, the number of articles I publish, that will be something to be proud of, but it wouldn't give my life meaning."

Renewing and strengthening the relationships between students and faculty was one of Reid's first goals when he returned to Wofford's psychology department. Reid was heavily involved during the design phase of the Robert Milliken Science Center that houses the psychology department, and he said one of his favorite parts of the building is that faculty offices are off the student lounge/work area, facilitating a casual environment for discussions.

Reid said he also wanted to increase the quantity and quality of student research at Wofford College. Reid holds his students to the same peer-review standards professionals face when publishing research.

"Dr. Reid's students are not just talking about research, they are doing it; presenting their work at conferences and publishing articles in international journals," said David Wood, vice president for academic affairs.

Many of the papers line the walls of the psychology department and posters tout conferences students have attended. Reid is quick to show them off. Both relationships with students and an emphasis on research creates students who are engaged and academically prepared to excel. Reid said he is proud that about two-thirds of psychology undergraduates at Wofford go on to graduate-level education and the majority receive high marks in overall knowledge of the field.

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