Psychology Associate Dean Dr. Thomas MacCarty: A Faculty Q&A
Dr. Thomas MacCarty joined Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) a decade ago after a career as a counselor and drug and alcohol abuse counselor. He holds a PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Northcentral University and is an associate dean of SNHU’s online social science programs.
Recently he answered questions about his career, how he connects with students and more.
Please tell us a bit about your professional background.
Presently, I am an associate dean of social sciences at SNHU. I have been in that role for the past six years.
My professional career has gone down a few different roads before coming to SNHU. I started off as a drug and alcohol counselor back in the late ‘80s (I worked construction jobs — primarily in concrete until I was 33) and decided going back to school was a good idea. I worked in addictions for quite a few years and had my own private practice but was drawn into school psychology where I worked for various school districts for 15 years or so. I did have a brief stop at the Vermont Department of Corrections as a probation and parole officer for four years as well.
My work has changed as I continued with my education. I have taught at SNHU for the last 10 years and have enjoyed the experience immensely. I have also taught at other universities and colleges but SNHU is home now. I believe SNHU provides students with a great education and always puts students first, which is not the case with many colleges and universities that look at students as dollar signs. I hope to be at SNHU for the foreseeable future.
What first drew you to higher education?
I came into the helping profession because I wanted to help people through the adversities they are facing in their lives. Getting an education allowed that to happen for me while also allowing me to grow as a person.
It seemed to be a natural progression to teach at the college level as it allowed me to help students reach their own personal goals through education. I had my own personal struggles and had some very influential people that went out of their way to help me find myself. It may sound altruistic, but it really was about helping others, as I was once helped.
What aspects of your own education have been particularly influential in shaping your professional life in academia?
Education has allowed me to pursue professional and career goals that would never have been open to me without it. My career changes have directly coincided with my educational achievements.
Over time, after teaching in various universities and colleges, I found that I truly enjoyed working in higher education and having a doctorate helped in obtaining positions that may not have been available to me without it.
I drifted away from working directly with people and became far more interested in helping others through their educational pursuits. There is no doubt that education changes the lives of people and their families. That was very attractive to me.
How do you continue to learn and evolve as a leader in higher education?
It is crucial to stay as up-to-date as possible to what is happening in one’s profession. It is impossible to share knowledge with others if one’s knowledge base is obsolete.
Professional development is a must as always remembering to treat people as individuals. Being a leader involves working with others and having open lines of communication is a must. Being an attentive and active listener is also crucial — to hear what others are actually saying is important.
What do you feel is unique about the faculty, students and programs you oversee?
I feel very fortunate to have skilled and dedicated adjunct faculty teaching the courses in the online master’s in psychology program. The master’s in psychology faculty is all that one could ask for as an associate dean. They do their work helping our students be successful, and many go above and beyond what is expected to help students that may be struggling.
It is truly amazing when considering how many adjunct faculty are teaching any given term, that there are so few issues that come up at any given time. It goes to their professionalism and caring about our students that concerns seldom come up.
I believe the students in the master’s in psychology program are unique as well. They come from all walks of life, and the majority of them have more than just trying to get an education on their plate. Many work full-time, have families, take care of sick parents, battle with homelessness and personal stressors, are in the military, or are single parents struggling to make ends meet. Education may not always be their priority but they do not lose sight of their educational goals while dealing with life events. Our students persevere against the odds many times in working towards their degrees.
I believe our (Master of Science in Psychology) is unique because of our outstanding faculty and diversified student demographics. Our course offerings are not much different than what is found at other institutions of higher learning, but our faculty and students makes our program different from programs found at other institutions.
Can you think of a particularly impactful or eye-opening moment as a faculty member?
For me, it was getting feedback from students early on as an adjunct at a community college that they appreciated me as an instructor because I took the time to get to know them personally. This shaped how I teach today.
You can be an online instructor and still build relationship with students. It takes work, and putting oneself out there sometimes but students appreciate an instructor who is genuine and actually cares about them as people.
How have you found ways to effectively connect with students?
Personally, I use humor and never take myself too seriously. It is wonderful to have degrees and licenses but in the end the students I have in my courses are just trying to do the best they can, just as I was when I was a student.
I work to make connections with students because I actually like them and want them to be successful. I make myself as approachable as possible, and do not get caught up in titles.
What advice do you have for new and current students?
It may seem simple, but do not procrastinate and if you have questions reach out to your instructor. Waiting on an assignment and then finding out you have questions could be problematic. Most of our instructors have full-time careers, families, etc. just as our students do. They may not be available on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.
The other piece of advice is do your own work. It may be tempting to use AI or someone else’s work but refrain from doing so. Even if a student “gets away with it,” who is it hurting — the student in the end. Getting an education is just that — obtaining an education. Cheating may help in getting a degree but that is far different from actually learning and getting an education.
When it comes to the future of education, particularly, for programs in psychology, what’s on your mind?
Misinformation. I believe we need critical thinkers that will take the time to look at both sides of an issue and then make an informed decision. This is true with programs in psychology and other educational programs.
Psychology is an ever-changing field and it needs trained professionals who are willing to help those in need. That can only happen if we can produce graduates who are open minded, self-aware, willing to listen to opposing view points and do not take things at face value.
Psychology programs have not changed much over the years and course offerings will probably not change much going forward into the future, but the students who graduate from them have to be able to tell fact from fiction if they are to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
Why is education important to you and the world at large?
It can change lives. It made a huge impact in my own life. Education has taken some hits lately, some deserved and some not, but in the end, those with a college degree still outearn those without one on average.
It is not all about money though. Getting a degree in a discipline that is truly of interest to a person will, hopefully, allow that person to work in a field of their choosing, doing work they wish to do. There are no guarantees in life but once a degree is earned, there is no taking it away. For many, that alone is the goal. Accomplishing something others said was not possible.
Education can help lift a family out of poverty, show children the value of going to school, and to believe they can have a better life through education as well.
Beyond work, what’s something you’re passionate about or really enjoy doing?
We have a small farm in Vermont. We raise beef and I enjoy being with the animals. It is calming to be around them and to take care of them. They all have their own personalities, and they are always curious and inquisitive. They can lift one’s spirits.
Joe Cote is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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