Shelly Schreier, Teaching Professor and Neil M. Kalter Collegiate Lecturer IV

How did your journey start with the Department of Psychology?

I started my journey with the Department of Psychology during my first semester at the University in the late 1970s, when I took Introductory Psychology (Psych 171) as a Social Science. My Introductory Psychology course confirmed that this was the field of study I wanted to pursue. I took a broad range of psychology courses every semester after that, with the goal to attend graduate school and get my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. In addition to my formal coursework, I also had the opportunity to participate in Project Outreach, volunteering at Mott Children’s Hospital, and I became a group leader for the course in subsequent semesters. My sophomore year I reached out to Dr. Neil Kalter and began to do research on the effects of divorce on children. I was a research assistant on a variety of projects he was conducting, also collaborating with several other undergraduates, graduate students, and colleagues in the Department. I was extremely fortunate to be admitted to the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program at U- M immediately after receiving my bachelor’s degree. I received my M.A.. and Ph.D. from U-M and completed my post-doctoral work here at the University Center for the Child and Family. I truly am Maize and Blue, through and through. 

What does teaching in the Department mean to you?

I feel it is both a great responsibility and a privilege to be an educator here in the Department of Psychology. I teach because it is what I love to do, and I think my students respond to my excitement about the material and the opportunity to share it with them. I not only teach my students, but I get to learn with and from them. I also aim to provide my students with the strategies and encouragement to help them learn to learn, incorporating research from the field (e.g., cognitive psychology, developmental and personality psychology, neuropsychology). I often say a benefit of teaching is that it involves the continuation of my educational journey in the field. One of the greatest rewards of being an educator is the ability to model the joy in learning! I hope to help students learn the course material, while also defining what it means to be a successful learner for themselves-and ideally- help them capture the pleasures in the process along the way!

Two things you are known for are your Intro to Psychology courses and your classes focused on the psychology of children’s literature. Let’s start with the first one here. What are some of the main reasons Intro Psych classes are so important? 

For some students, Introductory Psychology will be their only exposure to psychology, for others it will be the first step of their college major and the foundation for their future careers. My main pedagogical goals are to have students leave this course with a greater appreciation of scientific inquiry, psychological principles and theories, and critical thinking skills that can be applied to their lives. I recently gave a lecture titled, “Everything I need to know I learned in Introductory Psychology.” In many ways the class provides a framework for life, not only through its content, but also through its process. I teach students to value psychology and its emphasis on empiricism and the importance of being an “informed observer.”  Introductory Psychology teaches students to develop their own hypotheses, and to support observations from different theoretical perspectives, which helps them be open to new and different ways of seeing and experiencing the world. Similarly, critiquing research designs and the results drawn from the data, encourages students to be active consumers of information. This process also models the need to consider not only the benefits of the results, but the limitations of what we currently know and believe. Ideally, this also leads students to develop the next questions to ask. The course also places a focus on ethical responsibilities inherent in our work and daily lives. Intro Psych covers material about how our brain works and the importance of sleep, the cultural impact on our behaviors, and how to be successful in the social world while supporting the wellbeing of ourselves and others. Many of the concepts I get to teach generalize beyond this class to guiding principles for how to approach our lives. 

Now let’s talk about your classes focused on psychology and children’s literature. What initially inspired you to create a course focused on that subject? What kinds of things can children’s literature teach us about developmental psychology (or about psychology in general)?

I am particularly proud of the Psychological Development Through Children’s Literature course that I created. I remember looking forward to “library day” each week at school and being excited when the Bookmobile visited during the summer months. Trips to the public library were a wonderful adventure, and I recall the pleasure at being able to sign my first official piece of identification-my library card. As someone who studied psychology and always had an interest in how children’s books give a glimpse into the human experience and the broader world, I began to explore the academic research on exposure to children’s literature. Research has consistently demonstrated the benefits of literature for a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. Experience with children’s books supports cognitive tools such as observing, hypothesizing, and summarizing. Children’s literature promotes socioemotional learning, helping children identify a myriad of feelings while also facilitating greater levels of empathy. Books can also model adaptive coping strategies for the different challenges children may confront. In a diverse society, research has emphasized the benefits of representation across a variety of identities. Books also teach children to learn about the importance of historical context, providing lessons that encourage them to compare the past with contemporary society, while also allowing them to imagine how things could be in the future. 

With psychological research as a background, I designed this class incorporating both classic and contemporary picture books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Wemberly Worried, and Peter’s Chair. It also includes novels such as The Giver, One Crazy Summer, and Wonder. The course explores a variety of topics such as moral development, identity formation, sibling relationships, peers, as well as how children and families cope with trauma and loss. I have also adapted the curriculum as an advanced seminar in clinical psychology, focusing on how different disorders are represented in children's books, the role of bibliotherapy, and the destigmatizing effects of children's literature on our understanding of mental health challenges and psychopathology. Although the class was originally offered as an advanced special topics course, I currently teach it as a first-year seminar. What a way to begin your college career—with a critical read of Goodnight Moon! If you haven’t read a children’s book lately, I recommend you pick one up, and I am always happy to give suggestions! 

Beyond teaching, are there other ways are you involved in the department, the college, or the university? If so, what inspired you to get involved in these ways?

I have been fortunate to be a member of the Department for many decades and in several different roles: as an undergraduate, graduate student, lecturer, advisor, and mentor in both formal and informal ways. I benefited from the generosity of my professors and mentors in the Department over the years, and I believe it is my responsibility to give back by “paying it forward.” One way I do this is to share my knowledge of campus resources with my students. In addition, I am always excited when my students describe new programs to me, allowing me to expand my repertoire of opportunities to pass along.  In addition to my teaching and individual contact with students, I served on the Student Academic Affairs Committee (SAA) and the Executive Committee. I am currently a member of the Psychology Department Development Committee. I was honored to serve on the LSA Curriculum Committee, helping to evaluate courses and policies throughout the University. It has been a delight to participate in the Department graduation ceremonies over the years celebrating our students. We have such a vibrant campus with many diverse opportunities, and I enjoy going to lectures, the museums, theater performances, and sporting events. Looking up while walking to class, at times I just stop and smile, thinking how lucky I am. It is hard to believe that I have been on campus for almost 45 years, and by the way, I have yet to step on the M in the diag. 

What advice would you give to people who recently graduated with Psychology degrees and may be wondering where to go from here?

The most wonderful thing about a degree from the Psychology Department is its relevance to so many career options even beyond graduate school in the applied fields. The skills psychology majors develop in decision making, creativity, communication patterns, critical thinking, and how to navigate the social world, are all helpful for whatever direction our lives take us. Over the years I have found that psychology majors are well prepared to pursue careers in a myriad of fields such as marketing and sales, law, medicine, as well as informatics.  Ultimately, my best advice for our graduates who wonder where to go, is that they can go anywhere they want. And, sometimes it can be helpful to not only look at the “long game” but to be open to just figuring out the next best step! I also think it is useful to remember that not all journeys are a straight line, and to enjoy the different paths they may take along the way, seeing each direction as a learning opportunity. Finally, I would say as they look forward, do not forget to look back. Reach out to favorite professors and connect (or reconnect) with them, seek out guidance from advisors and campus resources. Think about what classes they found meaningful and enjoyed learning about. The staff at the SAA office have put together incredible resources highlighting some of the careers our majors have pursued on our website. As graduates of our department, our students are truly equipped with some of the best tools and strategies to succeed. And wherever their path leads, they should know that they will always be a part of us-and may they forever, Go Blue!