The ASU psychology professor loves to make a difference

February 23 – Susan Owen said she loves teaching so much she can’t imagine doing anything else and is thrilled when she knows she’s made a difference.

She is Professor of Psychology at Athens State University and Chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences.

Owen said she trained as a researcher.

“To do research, you have to be in an academic environment,” she said, “and with that comes teaching — and then I just fell in love with teaching.”

Owen was in grad school when she decided teaching would be her path. She taught at the University of Kansas for five years while pursuing her PhD in social psychology.

Stephen Spencer, Dean of the Athens State College of Arts and Sciences, has worked with Owen for four years. He said she is an insightful professional and a positive leader.

“Dr. Owen is a great listener and I have observed many times her actively listening to her peers, always striving to understand different perspectives,” said Spencer.

Teaching is both the most challenging and the most rewarding part of her job, Owen said.

“You really want students to get something out of your lessons. You want to give them a different way of looking at things. Sometimes that’s a challenge,” she said. “It’s also very satisfying to see lightbulbs come on. When you know you’ve made a difference.”

Owen said it “warms my heart” when students keep in touch through the years and let them know how well they are doing and how their careers are going.

Owen thought of a certain former student who graduated in 2011. The former student, Owen said, has a master’s degree in social work and is applying to a doctoral program.

“It’s nice to see a student that you’ve inspired to pursue PhD,” said Owen. She said many of her students go to graduate school and end up with a master’s degree in social work.

Another former student, Owen said, has since earned master’s degrees in sociology and psychology and is pursuing another master’s degree in public health.

spender said Owen “is passionate about psychology and she wants all of her students to be successful.”

The pandemic has had a significant impact on Owen’s ability to teach. Owen said faculty were notified on the Friday before spring break in 2020 that in-person classes would be suspended.

“This spring break, all of us who were teaching traditional classes had to convert our traditional classes to online classes. … It meant learning a technology that we weren’t as familiar with,” Owen said.

Owen said she had little time to design four classes that would keep students engaged and learning. Not being in a classroom is difficult for students and teachers, she said.

After teaching exclusively online for the past two years, Owen only started a class, social psychology, in person again this spring semester. Within the first few weeks, three of the 12 students in this class contracted COVID.

Owen said the classrooms have changed. There is plexiglass between each row of desks, and Owen said the height of the glass made it difficult to see some of her students.

However, both the students and Owen are excited to be back in a classroom, she said. Owen is teaching four classes total this semester, but said, “I didn’t know how the pandemic was going to play out, so I decided to narrow it down (personally) to one (class).”

She also teaches three other classes remotely.

Before COVID, Owen and a colleague had started teaching an applied social psychology course at Limestone Correctional Facility.

“That was another thing that changed with the pandemic,” Owen said. “They got locked down and we couldn’t get back in.”

Owen said some ASU students would come and study alongside the prisoners. Owen said they will resume classes when they are allowed back into the facility.

Owen said she has a motive for never giving up teaching.

“I can’t think of anything I would enjoy more than teaching. I’m so lucky to have a job, a career that I love. It never really crossed my mind to do anything else,” she said.

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