The Elizabethtown College psychology department is making efforts to expand into the local community after it welcomed a new faculty member. Dr. Joseph Mahoney, professor in psychology, began his time at the College just a few weeks ago but already has big plans for the department. He hopes that his move here will help the department, and in turn the school, connect its students to the world around them.
“I’m particularly interested in social development,” said Mahoney, who specializes in the development of school-age children to the period right after high school he refers to as “adulolescence.” In his work, he attempts to understand how various problem behaviors develop, including emotional problems, aggression, childhood obesity and struggles with achieving academically.
Along with understanding these issues, Mahoney hopes to promote competent functioning in people. “Wellness, thriving, civic engagements, giving back to the community … you could say that my work is very applied,” he said.
In-classroom learning is important to him, but it can only be bolstered through service-learning experiences that allow students to test their knowledge in the real world. Students will often find an opportunity or requirement to do service learning in his classes. “The motto here, ‘Educate for Service,’ is the reality of the classes I teach,” he said.
While in-classroom learning is important, Mahoney recognizes that sometimes it is applied well to the real world — but sometimes it isn’t. He believes students need to know what working in a certain field is really like to help them make the right choice regarding what they want to spend their lives doing.
After applying their knowledge to their potential occupations, they may find that they love it, but they may find that they hate it. He considers both of these a learning victory, as the experience will help students to solidify their paths. It’s better to know now than later. This is a focus he hopes to strengthen and build on at the College. Understanding and connecting with our own knowledge can connect us to the community.
Mahoney came to the psychology department with the intention of marrying the scientific research of the classroom with real world problems in the community. He wants students to go out and understand their communities, listening to members to find out what common concerns are.
He does not intend for the students to impose their knowledge on the community but to find out how to integrate it appropriately. Through a developing and long-term collaboration — a college-community partnership — he wants students to help each community function successfully.
As a new faculty member, Mahoney looks forward to working with his colleagues to advance opportunities for action research at the College. Though he is advocating this position with great enthusiasm, one of the reasons he chose Etown is that college administration and faculty members are already encouraging this form of service learning.
In fact, according to Mahoney, the psychology department has “a wonderful collaboration with the Center for Community and Civic Engagement and the number of partnerships that we’re forming with the community continues to grow rapidly by working together.”
After looking around the country for jobs that would allow him to continue his research focusing on youth development in out-of-school settings in a different way and different backdrop, Etown caught his eye because at the community’s heart and soul is the importance of service. Etown seemed provide him with the best opportunities to conduct the kind of classes he wants.
He is currently teaching three courses: General Psychology, Child and Adolescent Development and Community Psychology, and will probably add one new course next year.
Mahoney earned his doctorate at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and conducted post-doctoral work in Sweden at Stockholm University. He held his first professorial position at Yale, spending eight years there before teaching education at the University of California, Irvine for six years.
Mahoney believes that Elizabethtown College is a good fit for him and is enjoying teaching at the school so far. “Everything’s lived up to its promise,” he said. “I hope I will!”