Psychology professor Sam McQuillin stands on campus as he gets his picture taken

Garnet Apple teaching award winner: Sam McQuillin

Psychology professor believes outside of the classroom experiences are key to a full education

Sam McQuillin
Associate professor of psychology
College of Arts and Sciences
Ph.D University of South Carolina
2021 Garnet Apple Award
At UofSC since 2016

My most memorable experiences as an undergraduate were the outside of the classroom experiences. So, I do a lot of that now.

You can acquire a lot of information in a classroom, but learning alone is often not sufficient to add value to society, to a business or to an institution. To do this you have to learn to do valuable things. And by learning new skills and then practicing them, learning to work with others, you can add value. Now, don't get me wrong, lecture is necessary. That’s an important part of higher education— the opportunity to learn the necessary pieces of information and then be provided the opportunity to put that to work and to get feedback on how well you're doing it.

As an undergrad, I was interested in treatment of delinquency problems, misconduct and ADHD. I took classes on behavior and learning, abnormal psychology, adolescent psychology and so on. But none of it really clicked for me until I got out of the classroom and was a counselor in a program at USC, where I did my undergrad, for kids who had conduct problems and who were expelled from school. And there was an evidence-based approach to shaping their behavior and teaching them social skills, problem solving, how to cope with trauma, how to navigate conflict with peers. And then it's like all those courses in behavior modification, social psychology, counseling — it starts to click.

Get engaged, get out and do something. You're in control of this learning environment. You can go knock on a professor's door and say, ‘Hey, let me work in your lab. Let me run some analyses with you from the stats that I just learned here. Let me learn how to enter data or let me work in this camp that you're running for kids or let me go observe therapy.’ There are cool things that you can do.

I think a lot of students learn from discourse. We're very social creatures, and a lot of times how we learn is less about the rational, logical explanation for something and more about how we feel. So, one way to do that is to encourage debate and discourse. I think that's a great way to engage students.

In my research methods class, we have conversations about a hot topic or a potentially sensitive topic as it relates to cause and effect. In order to do this, you have to protect the students, too. So we review the Carolinian Creed. If you can protect that safe, inclusive environment where people feel free to share a perspective and also free to disagree with other people's perspectives, I think that's where teachable moments come. Because a lot of times there are these ‘Aha’ moments.

I learned the importance of engineering a class that is a positive, affective or emotional experience where students walk away from that class and they feel hopeful, they feel empowered and they feel excited about what they learned, not stressed about the test. They're actually excited. They learned something new

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