Posted by William Nunnelley on 2001-11-14

Samford University psychology department chair Stephen L. Chew believes the best way for students to learn is to begin serious research long before graduate school. "Planning, conducting and presenting research promote key critical thinking and communication skills," said Dr. Chew.

Since coming to Samford eight years ago, he has sparked an emphasis on undergraduate research, not only in his department but across the curriculum. As a result, Samford now ranks in the top 10 nationally in the number of students presenting papers each spring at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR).

Chew believes this not only helps students learn, but "makes them more competitive for both jobs and top graduate and professional programs." He has involved students in research projects since he began teaching in the early 1980s.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Tuesday (NOV. 13) named Chew the 2001 Alabama Professor of the Year. Announcement of the award came in Washington, D.C., from the Carnegie Foundation—the nation's third oldest foundation—and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, which administers the program.

The program salutes outstanding undergraduate instructors who excel as teachers and influence the lives and careers of their students, according to Carnegie. The Foundation selects one winner from each state and the District of Columbia.

Chew is the third Samford professor to win the annual award since 1994. Carnegie selected business professors Thomas Woolley and Marlene Reed in 2000 and 1994 respectively.

The Carnegie Award is the latest in a series of honors for Chew. He won Samford's top teaching honor, the John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Teaching, in 1999, the same year he was named a Carnegie Scholar. In that role, he co-authored the psychology section in the upcoming book, Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Conversation, to be published by Carnegie.

Chew has spoken widely on the scholarship of teaching. He delivered the keynote address for the University of Wisconsin System Department Chairs Leadership Institute in 1999 and spoke at the American Association of Higher Education Colloquium on Campus Conversations, the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology and the American Psychological Association.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Texas, Chew holds the Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He taught at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota during 1984-1993.

Chew "has helped to invigorate the intellectual life of the faculty," said Dr. Rod Davis, his former dean in Samford's arts and sciences college, by founding the Faculty Shoptalk Series of presentations on current faculty research.

Chew believes good teaching depends on two particular areas—using good examples and helping students to rethink "intuitive but mistaken beliefs" they have developed.

"The quality of examples and how they are used has a major impact on what is learned," said Chew. Part of this is considering what the student audience is familiar with, he said. In the area of correcting misconceptions, he has devised writing assignments, based on actual events, that force students to confront the shortcomings of their own intuitive ideas.

"One example of such a misconception is that psychology is about getting in touch with your feelings," Chew said, "when actually it is about all the factors that contribute to our behavior, from genetics to culture." Another misconception is that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent, when in reality, "the incidence of violence among mentally ill people is no greater than among the general population."

Samford psychology major Estelle McKee praised Chew's teaching and added, "One thing he does is help us to be a bit more skeptical about research results and therefore more analytical." She said her exposure to undergraduate research has made her feel "very well equipped in terms of research" as she considers graduate schools.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.