Macalester College is a private undergraduate liberal arts college that emphasizes academic excellence in the context of internationalism, multiculturalism, and a commitment to service and civic engagement. It has always had a relationship with the Presbyterian Church, yet has long been nonsectarian in policy and practice. Enrolling its first students in 1885 at its current location in a residential section of St. Paul, Minnesota, Macalester currently serves approximately 1800 full-time and 45 part-time students from nearly every US state and from 87 other countries. Ten Macalester graduates have held Rhodes scholarships, and during the past ten years, degree recipients have been awarded 15 National Science Foundation fellowships, 23 Fulbright-Hays awards, 11 Truman Scholarships, and six Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. Nearly 60 percent of all Macalester graduates earn an advanced degree within six years after graduation.
One hundred and fifty full-time and 70 part-time faculty offer BA degree programs in 25 departments and eight interdisciplinary concentrations. The curricular offerings at Macalester are enhanced through membership in the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities, a consortium which enables students to take courses at any of four other liberal arts colleges in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul; students may also avail themselves of the many academic opportunities provided by the University of Minnesota, located nearby. For more than 30 years, the Macalester psychology department has actively supported the annual Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference where students from more than 30 upper Midwest colleges and universities present research results to peers and faculty members.
The psychology department graduates approximately 40-45 majors each year, making it one of the largest majors on campus. Students enjoy the intellectual and social opportunities afforded by the department’s psychology club, Psi Chi chapter, monthly newsletter Psychobabble, and comfortably furnished student lounge. The majority of the department’s graduates ultimately pursue advanced degrees in psychology, social work, education, law, and medicine.
Macalester College offers a supportive research environment in which faculty scholarship is integrated with an outstanding undergraduate curriculum. Faculty interests reflect the major subdisciplines in psychology: behavioral neuroscience, cognitive psychology, development psychology, social psychology, behavior analysis, personality psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and clinical/community psychology. Members of the department have active research programs and publish, often with student co-authors, in some of their fields’ most prestigious journals, including Science, Journal of Memory and Language, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, JEP: General, Journal of Social Issues, Brain Research, and JEP: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Faculty at Macalester are involved in professional activities at the state and national levels in such roles as president of the Minnesota Psychological Association, president of faculty for undergraduate neuroscience, state director of the American Association of University Professors, members of grant review panels, guest editors of journals, editorial board members, presenters at national and international conferences, and reviewers for more than 20 psychological journals. The reputation of the faculty in the department is reflected in honors and awards such as the Brenda A. Milner Award from APA Division 6, the Minnesota Psychological Association Walter D. Mink Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, and citations in the recent University of Michigan Supreme Court briefs. Research in the department has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Macalester’s psychology department, like many across the nation, leads a dual life within the overall college curriculum. While most of its courses are offered within the division of social sciences, the natural science end of psychology is also well represented. It seeks to encompass both disciplinary perspectives by fostering a scientific approach to the study of behavior and experience within a broader social context. It also aspires to promote other hallmarks of an excellent undergraduate education, including critical thinking, written and oral communication skills, and quantitative and technological literacy. The college’s location in the heart of a metropolitan area of three million residents provides unique opportunities for students to participate in internships and engage in service learning/volunteer experiences; more than half of psychology majors include at least one of these opportunities in their Macalester experience.
Macalester’s psychology department offers students considerable latitude in the courses they take within certain required categories. Students experience the breadth of the discipline by choosing an array of intermediate-level courses. Using these courses as a foundation, they then examine the field more deeply through the lens of specialized advanced-level seminars. The typical path through the major encourages students to take increasing initiative in shaping their own educational experience, culminating in a senior seminar in which students take significant responsibility for the course readings and instruction.
Three elements of the major merit particular comment. First, laboratory involvement infuses the curriculum. The one semester introductory psychology course includes a weekly lab section, setting the stage for additional lab work in at least one course at the intermediate level of the curriculum. In addition, the required research methods and statistics course is also laboratory-based. While much of this lab work trains students in experimental design and analysis, the department also provides instruction in survey methodologies as well as quasi-experimental, qualitative, and behavior analytic research approaches. Second, while many psychology departments offer an intensive research experience in the senior year, Macalester students undertake their first substantial independent research project in their junior year. The one semester directed research course resembles the senior thesis requirement at other institutions. Having completed two semesters of statistics and research methods, Macalester psychology majors conduct a review of the relevant professional literature on a topic of their choosing, design and implement an investigation with sufficient power to test their hypotheses, complete a thorough statistical analysis of their findings, write an APA-style manuscript detailing their work, and present their findings at the annual Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference. Between five and ten students each year opt to conduct additional intensive independent research in their senior year through the honors program. Finally, the department requires all students to complete at least one course that offers perspectives on, and frequently critiques of, traditional psychological epistemology and methodology. In many departments, this metatheoretical lens is offered by a history and systems course. While Macalester offers such a course, the “context and critique” requirement is also fulfilled by classes focused on the role social structures – such as gender, race/ethnicity, and social class – play in shaping the discipline of psychology.
The psychology department is housed in the Olin-Rice Science Center, which was completely renovated in 1997. Classrooms are all ethernet equipped, with data projection available. A department focal point is a dedicated computer laboratory, employed for instruction in statistical methods and other computer-intensive courses. Separate laboratories for research in cognitive, clinical, developmental, perceptual, and social psychology are each equipped with computer workstations and specialized equipment, including video monitoring and stimulus presentation equipment.
The Center also houses a state-of-the-art animal facility that supports learning/behavior analysis and neuroscience courses, student projects, and research. The learning/behavior analysis laboratory contains a number of small animal operant chambers, which can be outfitted with a variety of manipulanda, exteroceptive stimuli, and reinforcement delivery devices. Specialized mazes, running wheels, and other devices are also available. The neuroscience laboratory and attached wet lab feature light microscopy and a histology station with cryostat, along with eight and 16 channel EEG, Biopac, acoustic startle, and Colbourn classical conditioning, hotplate, and tailflick equipment. Behavioral observation in water maze, elevated plus maze, and other environments is aided by overhead video cameras in multiple rooms, and routed to Videomex image tracking equipment. The cognition laboratory consists of a suite of rooms each equipped with PCs that control response boxes, voice keys and microphones, and specialized software designed to run millisecond-accurate reading and response-time experiments. These excellent facilities reflect the college’s commitment to promoting scholarly research as the cornerstone of a vibrant and interactive intellectual community.