October 15, 2007
Ants, floods and friendships
By Steve nowicki
Our origins can be traced back to Sept. 1, 1962, when Irwin. J. Knopf arrived on campus as the new head of the psychology department.
This elegant visionary soon brought in a trio of colleagues: Alfred Heilbrun Jr., Boyd McCandless and Martin Shapiro to head the three programs that we still more or less have today.
I know Jay Knopf had a good idea of the kind of department he wanted to build, but my guess is that even his most optimistic hopes have been eclipsed by where we are now.
Over the past 25 years, Emory has emerged as one of the foremost universities in the United States. The psychology department, like an experienced surf boarder, has ridden the crest of its multiple waves of growth.
But it has not been an overnight success for us in the psychology department.
I remember the psychology building of my early days at Emory. We were 21 faculty squeezed into two and a half floors with animal labs at the very top of our building and, of all things, the chemistry department sandwiched between the basement and second floor.
Our old building provided us with many interesting moments.
One such moment involved ants. They always were everywhere. Graduate students used to place bets on how long it would take for an ant to appear on a piece of candy left on a desk.
Marshall Duke and I wrote a paper in which we hypothesized that the ant problem was due to the fact that we unknowingly were part of a National Institute of Mental Health research project on insect-human interaction.
The paper was never published.
Another old building moment involved water. As I mention earlier, chemistry occupied the first floor of our building. One morning I came in to prepare for my class, opened the door to my basement office and was greeted by a torrent of water. Someone had left the sink tap on in a lab and it had overflowed and the water had drained down into the clinical offices. We rushed about trying to save typed pages of manuscripts and other valuables (these were the days before word processors and flash drives). I remember giving my lecture that morning in bare feet with my pant legs rolled up to my knees.
And yet in spite of the state of our building, the psychology department was good.
During the early ’90s, Howard Rollins spearheaded efforts to renovate our building with the support of the National Science Foundation. Many of us remember the year we spent among the dust-covered nooks and crannies of the old geology building waiting for the renovation to be completed.
And with the help of that new space, the psychology department became very, very good.
Over the past decade our growth has forced us to seek space beyond our own building to places all over campus. This is bad not only for intellectual reasons, but also because quite simply we like one another. Before and after formal meetings, in the hall passing by an office, at the mail room, on the way to class, we take every chance to stop and visit with one another.
This new building brings us back together once more and it can help take us to greatness. But only if we do not forget what brought us to this place and to this time.
We are here because we have always honored and respected one another. We relate to each other with honesty and caring. Our relationships cut across programs and status and they sustain and energize us in our work. They are our hidden strength and at the very core of our excellence.
We have survived the petty squabbles of territory and status because, after all is said and done, we have always put the good of the department ahead of our own. Like combat veterans, we know our backs are always covered by our colleagues. Like a family, we know we always belong.
With the promise of an unbelievable building that will house all of us in the style to which we will soon become accustomed, let us remember that it was not the just gadgets and buildings that have brought us success, but the way we have worked and played with one another over the past four decades. Consider the fact that we managed to be good when we were in a bad old building; now imagine how good we can be in this new place. I’ve never felt better about the future, and I’ve never been prouder to be part of the Emory psychology department than I am today.
This essay was excerpted from Candler Professor of Psychology Steve Nowicki’s speech at the dedication ceremony for the new psychology building on Sept. 28.