Excitement of teaching keeps inspiring psychology's Jacki Reihman
In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Jacqueline “Jacki” Reihman of the psychology faculty, whose research includes partnership in the globally respected Oswego Children’s Study. A distinguished teaching professor, she values the classroom experience most of all.
Q. When did you start at SUNY Oswego?
A. In 1981. My husband, (psychology colleague) Ed Lonky, and I were in the same graduate program at the University of Wisconsin. He was a year ahead of me in the job market. We agreed he wouldn’t take a job at a place I refused to go, and I refused to go a lot of places. (Laughs.) I was brought here by a man, I’m humbled to say.
Q. And what has kept you at the college?
A. The stock answer: It’s a good community to raise children. That’s certainly part of it. I had opportunities to leave early in my career, but decided that this was the place that allowed me to enjoy the teacher-scholar model without a great deal of external pressure. I knew I’d publish and get grants, and I didn’t need someone telling me to do that.
Q. You teach statistics and use of data; how do you engage fearful students?
A. Most kids, Day One of class, don’t want to be in my class. The first thing I try do is reduce anxiety in any way I can. I encourage lots of give and take. The message is actually pretty simple: Statistics are tools to answer questions. I ask them to fast-forward. I say, “You have a child who’s 7 and who is exhibiting hyperactive behaviors. How do you decide which kind of treatment modality you need?” I use gazillions of real-life examples, and hopefully can show them that statistics is really no more than logic. I also torture them. I do so by hammering things over and over again, so that it becomes natural for them to ask questions. We have fun in class. At end of the semester, they can’t believe they did it, but they did! It’s exciting. Being in the classroom is just the very best part of my job, which is why I’m still doing it.
Q. Why did you choose psychology as your field of study?
A. I was originally in a pre-med program as an undergraduate at Wisconsin. I really didn’t think I’d be able to go through night after night of not sleeping, as an intern. I had taken a lot of psychology courses, liked them and had the good fortune of being a research assistant for Loren Chapman, who did a great deal of work in schizophrenia, and Harry Harlow, who was the pre-eminent primatologist in the country. So I got to work with monkeys at the zoo. I was captivated by the ability to ask questions through research.
Q. Where did you focus your early research?
A. Because I was a product of the ‘70s, I always thought research needed to have a functional focus. I wanted to do work that I thought might have some social impact. Early on, I was involved in a lot of what we called client outcome studies, trying to find out whether there was any efficacy in various treatment modalities. I worked with Oswego Mental Health Center and Hutchings Psychiatric Center—at the time, computers were a new thing—developing information systems that would enable us to collect data, track data, analyze it.
Q. What have been your research and evaluation interests here?
A. When I came to the college, I got involved very early with the Honors College program, a focus of Virginia Radley, who was president at the time. Sara Varhus and I wrote a monograph that is still being used in terms of developing a protocol, a prescription, for evaluating honors programs. I also got involved with evaluation at what I call third-sector kinds of agencies, like Farnham in its early years, and later with Oswego County Opportunities. Then I got involved with the local school systems evaluating after-school programs. I was almost always able to involve some of my students in those efforts. I did internships with them and hopefully sparked their interest in research.
Q. How did you get involved in the Oswego Children’s Study?
A. (The late) Helen Daly, Ed Lonky and I began a study in behavioral teratology, which was looking at the long-term consequences—behavioral, educational, psychological and so on—of prenatal exposure to environmental toxins. What began as a three-year grant morphed into grants that went on for more than 20 years. After Helen’s untimely death, we hired Paul Stewart. We are just now finishing that work. We had three separate cohorts (of children) spread across three birth years that began prenatally with their mothers and extended to these kids who are now 19, 20 and 21 years old. We have a wealth—I mean 50,000 data points—for each one of these kids. It is amazing. That’s one of the reasons we kept getting funding, because we have more data on more children than anyone in the country.
Q. What are you most proud of in your career here?
A. I think certainly that participating in the efforts to bring all that (grant) funding here was big. There were all kinds of consequences, even for the psychology department. Early on, there were indirect monies that were funneled back to the department and we were able fully outfit the computer lab, we bought out time for other young faculty to begin some research and so on. In that regard, I think it ended up being win-win for everybody. But as I said, I still really enjoy being in the classroom.
Q. Do you have a plan when you do retire?
A. I’ll play a lot of golf. (Laughs.) I’ll enjoy my grandson, and likely still stay involved with some of these third-sector agencies—I’ve served on lots of boards, so I’ll keep my hand in the mix of community involvement and engagement. I do lots of reading. I like gardening. Anything outside—walking, biking.
Q. What more can you tell us about your family?
A. My daughter Meg, her husband Jerry and their 16-month-old son Jack have recently relocated to Oswego. I could not be more pleased. They were in New York City for 12 years, and it is a gift to have them in the area. Meg is a guidance counselor at the middle school in Hannibal and Jerry works in (the college’s) Development Office.
(Posted: Aug 21, 2014)