This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Dr. Elizabeth Thyrum, associate professor of psychology.
Q: Where are you originally from?
I grew up outside of Camp Hill, Pa. I graduated from Cumberland Valley High School.
Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in psychology?
I came to Millersville as a history major and was thinking I would either become a curator of a museum or go on to law school. After taking history classes, visiting a law school and speaking with students who were studying at that law school, I realized that path was not for me mainly because I wouldn’t be working with people in the way I had hoped to. Since I enjoyed my high school psychology course and found that I could run experiments well, I decided to major in psychology during my sophomore year. I was pleased with this decision and I enjoyed my psychology courses. I never looked back.
Q: From what school(s) have you earned your degree(s) from?
I graduated from Millersville in 1986. I pursued graduate study at Rutgers University, where I received my master’s in behavioral neuroscience and a doctorate in clinical psychology. I completed my clinical internship through Brown Medical School and a post-doctorate/research associate position at Duke Medical Center.
Q: What factors led you to attend Millersville as a student?
One of my parents had a serious physical illness, so I needed to stay close to home. I was offered a SICO Foundation scholarship that would pay for third of my education. MU also had a newly developed honors program, which I thought would enhance my education.
Q: Is there a professor from your time who really sticks out in your mind?
There are too many to name. I am not trying to be polite, it’s true. A few of them still teach here (30 years later!). I am very grateful to the mentoring, encouragement and excellent instruction I received from them. I was just as well prepared as my classmates in my doctoral program, who were from Ivy League schools and other top notch universities, because of their expertise.
Q: What was your favorite class while a student at Millersville? Why?
Physiological Psychology. Brain-behavior relationship is so fascinating to me! After I completed physiological psychology at Millersville, I was able to enroll in a more advanced course at Franklin & Marshall during my senior year.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach at Millersville? Why?
Right now, I would say it is Directed Projects. This is a course that moves students out of the classroom and into a field experience. It’s wonderful to see students excel, gain invaluable experience, begin to develop into young professionals, represent MU well and obtain job offers at the end of their field experience. This course has allowed me to forge valuable associations with local agencies and facilities that may benefit our students.
Q: How did it feel when you became a professor at Millersville after graduating from the school yourself?
When I returned to Millersville to teach, I definitely went through a period of adjustment. During my first year as a professor, I would walk around campus, go into buildings and see faculty who had taught me, which all brought back a flood of memories! I had to build my confidence and constantly remind myself that I am a professional and colleague.
Q: Is there a specific topic of psychology that you enjoy teaching?
The Stages of Change Model. It is relevant in two of the courses I regularly teach, Psychology of Drug Addiction and Health Psychology. The model can help us understand how people make changes, either health behaviors like exercise or nutrition or substance use like quitting smoking or changing alcohol consumption. The two psychologists who developed this model each came to our campus to give colloquia. Our students benefitted from hearing them speak and I often refer to their talks when we cover this topic in class.
Q: What are you interested in researching?
My research interests have included understanding craving in addiction, psychosocial adjustment to cardiovascular disease, HIV, cognition and the links between psychological function and physical well-being.
Q: Are there any research projects that you have done in the past or present that you would like to tell us about?
A rewarding research effort was part of a collaboration I established with a Lancaster social service agency that assisted individuals with HIV. My students and I evaluated their clients’ cognitive and emotional function. Our goals were to understand the links between these psychological measures and the progression of their disease. In addition, we were able to assist the agency by assessing individuals for depression, which was incorporated into the services they provided their clients.
Q: How do you want students to remember you?
I would like them to think of me as an advocate and as someone who is fully invested in helping them reach their potential and become well prepared for life after Millersville.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
One of my interests is playing the flute. For about the last eight years, I have played with Millersville’s Flute Ensemble. I love the beautiful sounds that a group of 15 flutes, alto flutes and base flutes can make.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
“Life is good.”
Q: What is something you absolutely need to get through your day?
Music, I always have music playing whether I am in my car or my office. And coffee.
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment?
Being a mother to my two teenage daughters and returning to Millersville to be a faculty member.