Ask A Professor

Elizabeth Groch Baroi

Elizabeth Groch Baroi, PhD, Professor of Psychology, teaches at Signal Peak. 

 Mundy Rimmer/April Jerome/Joanna Escalera-What made you go into psychology? Jemima Sandoval-Did childhood experiences have an impact?

As an elementary school student, I did not understand why some of my classmates performed well and others did not. It was (and is still believed) that children from affluent homes performed better in school because they enjoyed more educational resources (books, educational games). I attended school with several children from immigrant families, like myself, who were near poverty level; yet, did well in school. How is this possible?

Then in my late 20s, I had the privilege of living in Japan and working in an educational setting that included Japanese and American children. Robust academic achievement in Japan is common among most students, regardless of socioeconomic status. As a nation, the Japanese value their children and education above anything else. Parents believe that all children have ability and, ability is developed through routine and consistent effort (study, study, study), which parents reinforce. (For more information, read Mindsets by Carol Dweck.) This was such a major “aha” moment. I wanted to learn more. Studying educational psychology came next.

 

Karolina Traslavina-Why did you chose to teach psychology and not clinically practice?

Great question, Karolina! Many people think of psychologists as clinicians who assess and treat clients with emotional, mental, or behavioral disorders, and approximately 60% practice in that capacity. However, psychology is a discipline with nearly 60 subdisciplines! Subdisciplines include cognitive, forensic, health, sport, peace, rehabilitation, religious, and social behavioral psychology. (For more information:  www.apa.org/about/division.)

Clinical psychologists have an important job requiring immense compassion, mental strength, and discipline. After listening to clients with painful issues, it is important to turn off one’s mind at the end of the workday. I would not be able to do that. I would worry about my clients and probably burn out (or, stroke out) early on. I chose educational psychology, with an emphasis on cognition, (two subdisciplines in one degree), studying and assessing how people of all ages learn new information and behaviors. Cognitive psychology is rich with optimism because of brain neuroplasticity. In other words, we may have experienced a miserable life for decades; yet, today is a new day and our brain is ready to refresh. I want students to realize the immense potential they have with neuroplasticity. Americans are rather notorious for believing that certain people are born smart and, quite often, “definitely not me!” This belief is self-destructive and false. Student can learn virtually anything when they take time to consistently and routinely practice new information until they know it, like an actor knows his script for a movie. Finally, Americans view errors or mistakes as terrible things leading to shame and insecurity. Errors are necessary! Think of errors as an expanded cognitive GPS system. In other words, not only do mistakes tell us what direction NOT to go next time, they tell us why, and we are not likely to repeat that mistake. So, bring on those mistakes and do a happy dance with each one!

 

Jasmine Diaz: Were you ever unsure about what you wanted to study? Did you ever doubt yourself and if you did, how did you pull yourself out of that mindset?

I believe all college students experience periodic bouts of doubt because a degree is time-consuming, expensive, and highly valued. We may feel inadequate. I have definitely experienced moments of immense doubt which lead to anxiety, and some crying; however, it was usually over one course or a professor that particularly challenged me. I often reminded myself that a bachelor’s degree would put me ahead of roughly 65% of Americans in the workforce, no matter what my degree was in (for those of you                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     wondering what to major in.) I reminded myself that I only had to deal with this tough course or miserable professor for 16 weeks—and no more. Graduate school presented similar doubts and fears, and I took each semester one day at a time. I told myself that I would do my best and not beat myself up. I would stop only when the university kicked me out because of a failing GPA. That never happened. A college education allowed me to overcome poverty, enjoy incredible work and life experiences, and give to back to humanity. Finally, my husband works for a hospice company. He has encountered many dying patients who had immense regret for not going to college and earning a degree. He described the regret more painful than their terminal disease.

 

Julianna Juarez: What do you tell yourself in the morning to help you start the day? Any tips to help brighten your mood?

Julianna, the things I tell myself when the alarm goes off in the morning usually include a string of expletives that would be inappropriate to print. My DNA-driven circadian rhythm is not that of the overly chipper morning lark. I married one. He brings me coffee with so much joy, I occasionally want to grab the coffee and then choke him. (Just kidding!) I am a night owl. Waking up sucks.

As a student, I knew that my classes brought me one day closer to a life of independence. I thought about buying my own home, where I would live, the couch I would select, and how my degree would make this happen.

Today, as your instructor, waking up still sucks and YOU (my students) are my motivation to wake up. I work for you. You pay tuition, which pays my salary, and you expect specific services from me. I try not to disappoint, especially when students come in after having all four wisdom teeth pulled, completing a round of chemotherapy, burying a beloved cousin who died too young, or working a 12-hour shift all night. My students make sacrifices. I owe them the best instruction and greatest compassion that I can provide.

 

Avery Luna: Why do you think it is important for students to be relaxed and not stressed in their learning environments?

Avery, as a student in my statistics class, you know that statistics is considered challenging.  Our brain’s focus must be on one thing–the statistics lesson of that day and nothing else. The brain can only take in new information, one bit at a time. IF our brain is focused on anything else, like stress of any kind, we are now processing two bits of information simultaneously—statistics and stress. Because stress is emotional, it is likely to take over. We will still pick up bits and pieces of statistical information, but there will be many missing pieces so when we study later that evening, it may not make sense. Information is incomplete. Feeling relaxed also boosts our self-confidence and we may be more motivated to learn challenging new content. Finally, if we are relaxed and consequently more motivated, we may be more comfortable making errors and learning from them. The entire learning process becomes more productive and positive, when relaxed.