A dynamic cohort strengthens UM with their experience and expertise
SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 BY STAFF REPORT
The University of Mississippi Department of Psychology welcomes Kristin Austin, Jeffery Bednark, Andy Hales, Grace Rivera, and Kurt Streeter as new members of its faculty.
Department chair Rebekah Smith stated: “It is with great enthusiasm we welcome these five outstanding new faculty to their new positions. They bring a range of experiences and expertise that support the goals of the department, college, and university. Despite transitioning to new roles in the department during the pandemic, they have already been making important contributions in research, undergraduate and graduate education, and our service mission.”
“I joined the psychology department in January 2021,” Austin said. “It was an interesting journey, to say the least, to be moving during a global pandemic from North Carolina to Mississippi. Although I had never visited Oxford prior to moving here, I was confident that the messages I received from faculty and students about the charms of this small college town would surely win me over.”
“Despite starting my position working remotely, I have felt incredibly welcomed and supported by my colleagues and students and reassured of my choice to join this department. My background and training are in the area of child and adolescent clinical psychology, including therapy and assessment. My primary areas of interest are in ADHD, comorbidity, executive functioning, assessment, and supervision/training. I have primarily been involved with graduate students through clinical supervision of psychological assessments and am looking forward to teaching an undergraduate course in the Spring 2022 semester.”
Bednark, an instructional assistant professor of psychology, received his doctorate in the field of cognitive neuroscience from the University of Otago in New Zealand and completed his postdoctoral training at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia.
“I am excited to be part of the Department of Psychology, where there is a strong focus on student learning, inclusion, and advancing research,” Bednark said. “Both my PhD and postdoctoral research focused on using cognitive neuroscience methods to understand learning in the brain. Additionally, I was part of the Australian Science of Learning Research Center that focused on bringing neuroscience principles into the classroom.”
“As an instructional faculty member, I have the opportunity to directly apply the knowledge I have gained from my research to student learning in the classroom. I am also excited about joining the Inclusive Teaching Faculty Learning Community, where I’ll be working to develop courses and teaching practices that are more inclusive and equitable.”
Hales, an assistant professor who earned his PhD from Purdue University and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Virginia, is a social psychologist fascinated by all aspects of social life and decision-making.
“I’m delighted to join the community of researchers in the psychology department, and to be continuing my research on social connections,” Hales said.
“I study the psychology of social ostracism and the causes and consequences of being left out. I hope to identify ways to help people cope with these negative experiences, or to avoid them altogether. I’m glad to be able to contribute to a great department, college, and university.”
Rivera, an assistant professor in the field of social and personality psychology, received her PhD from Texas A&M University. Her research is guided by an interest in how lay-theories (i.e., beliefs people hold about the way the world works) influence the way we approach life and the people around us. For example, in one line of work, she investigates questions such as: How do our beliefs about authenticity (i.e., feeling like one knows and can express their true self) shape our experience of psychological well-being, goal pursuit, and even our personal relationships? In other work, Rivera looks at American meritocracy beliefs and how preferences for individual vs. systemic explanations of social inequalities can reveal subtle racial biases in social perceptions.
“I am so glad to have joined the psychology department,” said Rivera. “From the first time I visited, I could see that this was a friendly and supportive space where people are excited to work together in the pursuit of learning and scientific discovery. I was drawn to this department by the cross-program research clusters of health and well-being, developmental perspectives, and diversity science and was excited by the many opportunities for collaboration.”
“While moving and starting a new position in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly came with unique challenges, I was grateful that even when working remotely I could see I had joined a campus community that found ways to connect with and support each other. I am looking forward to getting to know the campus and Oxford more and I am excited to be a part of this community!”
Attaining his Masters and PhD from UM, Streeter continued to serve as an adjunct until his recent promotion to instructional assistant professor of cognitive psychology. His academic responsibilities include teaching and reviewing online courses, offering a number of courses to support the major at the Desoto and Tupelo campuses, as well as academic mentoring.
He maintains a variety of research interests, including recent research exploring cross-cultural perceptions of naturalness, effects of ambivalence on critical thinking, as well as general interests in philosophy of mind and consciousness, psychology of faith structures and conceptualizations of freewill, and models of meaning in life.