Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Teacher, mentor, researcher

Teacher, mentor, researcher

“The beauty of psychology is that it draws people who want to help others,” says Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD, winner of the 2016 Ignatius Loyola Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Photo: Heather Eidson)

By Tasha Neumeister

We all, at some point in our lives, have asked ourselves the soul-searching question: Who am I?

For associate professor of clinical psychology Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD, answering that question is an integral part of her teaching and an ongoing process for her students. It involves recognizing that we all have multiple, diverse identities.

“We’re talking about gender, class, and religion,” Gaylord-Harden said. “We’re talking about abilities. We’re talking about sexual identity and intersectionality, which is ‘How do all of these things play out in a person’s life?’ ”

Gaylord-Harden teaches undergraduate and graduate psychology courses. In her human diversity graduate class, she uses self-reflection exercises in the beginning of the course to set the stage for more conversations on training, professional, and ethical issues. At the end of the course, she focuses on social justices issues. It’s a purposeful teaching approach that lets students be themselves while also paving the way for self-discovery and social change.

“When you think about clinical psychology programs, you don’t automatically think about social justice issues,” said Gaylord-Harden, who has been teaching at Loyola for over a decade. “So we really make sure we take time to identify connections from students’ own research ideas and clinical interests to social justice issues.” 

Senior Cathy Montgomery took Gaylord-Harden’s abnormal psychology course and was clearly influenced by her time in class.

“She makes you feel comfortable and prepared in what you’re doing,” said Montgomery, who is getting a double major in sociology and psychology. “She doesn’t make you feel like she’s holding your hand, but you know she has your back.”

For her emphasis on teaching and mentoring—as well as her commitment to social justice issues— Gaylord-Harden received the 2016 Ignatius Loyola Award for Excellence in Teaching at the Faculty Convocation on September 18.

Research on resilience

Montgomery is now a member of PACCT, Parents and Children Coping Together, a community-based research team—or lab as the group calls itself. Gaylord-Harden directs the group, which studies African-American children who are exposed to multiple stresses in their environment.

“She looks at her research, the effects of community-violence, in a broad sense,” Montgomery said. “How can we help these communities? How can we figure out something that will make this program work better? How can we make improvements? She’s always thinking about the next step.”

Gaylord-Harden’s research gives her an opportunity to work with many families through intervention; clinical work, on the other hand, limited her to helping one family at a time. Still, research is not something she planned to do. She earned a PhD in clinical psychology and was working with children in an impoverished community in Tennessee. The children there were going to inadequate schools and facing discrimination and violence.

“The research said they should all have negative life outcomes,” Gaylord-Harden said. “That’s when I began learning about resilience."

Using her doctoral work as a foundation, she now works with Chicago communities and schools where children are exposed to violence.  She and the students she works with study children’s “resilience” because it describes the strategies—such as coping and future orientation—that predict positive outcomes.

Gaylord-Harden became a postdoctoral clinical research associate through the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been widely published in her field. But she especially enjoys working with her students.

“The beauty of psychology is that it draws people who want to help others,” she said. Loyola magnifies that. “I knew coming in that I would have the opportunity to have class discussions on social justice issues. I think students are drawn to Loyola because of its commitment to social justice,” she said.

Real-world experiences

Amanda Burnside was deliberate in choosing Loyola University Chicago for her doctoral studies in clinical psychology. One key factor in her decision: Working with Gaylord-Harden. Burnside appreciated Gaylord-Harden’s research perspective on community violence exposure and her focus on prevention and positive outcomes.   

“She takes abstract concepts and forces you to apply them in real-life applications, and she makes them relevant to the students,” Burnside said. “She does a good job of engaging with the material, trying to connect it to real-world concepts because psychological theories can seem abstract.”

Perhaps Gaylord-Harden’s greatest enduring accomplishment at Loyola is her mentoring prowess, both knowingly and unknowingly.

James R. Larson Jr., PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, said Gaylord-Harden receives “near-uniform positive” comments from her students. But he notes that her teaching goes far beyond the classroom.

“It’s a delight to read the comments that students write about her as a teacher. She consistently receives excellent courses evaluation ratings,” Larson said. “She is clearly very successful at engaging students in the classroom, but she is also a strong mentor to students outside of the classroom.”

To Gaylord-Harden, mentoring—just like teaching—brings great fulfillment. But the student-teacher connection goes both ways. Similar to her teaching style, there are no airs, no superiority. It’s about learning and collaboration.

“My hope is to provide students with mentoring experiences that will inspire them to engage with communities not as an ‘expert’ but as ‘collaborator,’ and not seeking to ‘help,’ but seeking to ‘empower,’ ” she said.

Icing on the cake

Burnside said Gaylord-Harden is a wonderful mentor—and also a model of work-life balance.  

“She does a really good job of showing that you can be in academia, be a professor, teach, and be supportive of those people in your life,” said Burnside, who is in her third year in the program and is also a member of the PACCT lab. “The way she distributes her time is really admirable.”

She said Gaylord-Harden also inspires students to celebrate milestones. When someone in the research team walks in graduation, submits a thesis proposal, or defends a dissertation, Burnside says Gaylord-Harden brings in a cake. It’s this simple, yet meaningful recognition and value that Burnside finds encouraging.

Encouragement is Gaylord-Harden’s pathway to social justice. As a teacher, advisor, and mentor she is driven by the following Ignatian philosophy: Prepare students to lead a life that promotes the betterment of society for all.

That couldn’t be a more befitting mantra for someone who embodies the Ignatius Loyola Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Note: Parts of this story appeared in an issue of Loyola magazine.