Psychology prof earns award

Apr 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: April 23, 2009, Campus News, Issue

Calvin Garbin is the guy decked out in the orange T-shirt and tan shorts – even on the harshest of Nebraska winter days.

He wore a purple shirt on Halloween and told students he was in disguise.

This signature attire is a long-standing tradition for Garbin, professor of psychology and winner of a 2009 University of Nebraska Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award.

He owns 40 orange shirts and 30 pair of khaki shorts. The outfits are a fitting metaphor for Garbin’s accessibility, humor and focus on what really matters – training the next generation of psychologists in the compulsory knowledge of statistics.

“I inundate them with the understanding that this is the core of the discipline,” said Garbin, who has taught statistics and research methods at UNL for nearly 25 years. “You want to be a psychologist, you’ve got to learn this, too. It’s a required course because it’s required knowledge.”

Like many required courses, statistics has a tendency to alarm students. One of Garbin’s greatest skills as a teacher is his ability to de-mystify what is a famously difficult subject.

Calvin Garbin
STATS MAN – Calvin Garbin, professor of psychology, stands amid a flurry of statistical equations. Garbin tries to break down courses in psychology statistics to the most basic levels – citing personal research and collaborations – to help students gain a better understanding of the topic. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

“Nobody ever shows up in stats class saying, ‘I’ve been waiting for this one,’” Garbin said.

However, Garbin enjoys breaking down a subject many students do not believe is valuable to their career path.

“It’s fun to get them to see something that they don’t immediately recognize as the core of what we do,” Garbin said. “I spend a lot of time in class telling them about my own research, my own collaborations… I tell a lot of stories about where good data analysts came out happy and smiling and people who didn’t know what they were doing had to go find happy smiling statisticians.”

His enthusiasm for statistics is, against all odds, infectious.

“He tries his best to make statistics, something so complicated… he makes it so easy to understand,” said Liangliang Wang, a psychology graduate student. “After Dr. Garbin’s class, I’m really interested in applying what I’ve learned to my own research.”

Garbin has gone to great lengths to enhance teaching activities in UNL’s psychology department. His own research on teaching research methods has garnered national attention. He recruited programmers to help him create online exercises that are a staple in his courses. He spearheaded the “Research Across the Curriculum” program, which has led to more thorough teaching of research methods, data analysis and interpretation of findings in undergraduate courses.

According to his colleague Daniel Leger, “Cal decided long ago to devote most of his professional energies to teaching, a decision that is exceedingly difficult for a professor to make in the context of a research university. Because of Cal Garbin, many of us are much more comfortable putting our teaching first.”

In addition to these classroom innovations, mentoring plays a significant role in Garbin’s day-to-day schedule. He enjoys having individual contact with students, and he believes that those personal relationships improve his teaching overall.

His commitment to the success of his individual students is one quality of Garbin’s teaching that has attracted notice from his colleagues.

“Above all else, Dr. Garbin is a scholar-teacher,” wrote Ellen Weissinger, dean of graduate studies. “He lives and breathes teaching. If you spend more than five minutes with Cal, you will engage in an intense conversation about his latest technology innovation… or his most recent insight about the minds of young scholars. Cal is more curious about his students’ learning than any colleague I have ever encountered.”

This curiosity is immediately evident to students, who flourish in the nurturing and supportive classroom environment that Garbin creates.

“Cal’s always very friendly and open and willing to spend as much time as it takes to work with you individually or in class to get all your answers until you actually understand,” said Jamie Wilkinson, a fifth-year graduate student who has known Garbin since her undergraduate years.

Fittingly for a lover of statistics, the numbers paint a revealing picture of Garbin’s mentoring. In his career at UNL, he has supervised the presentation of more than 400 undergraduate research projects at local and regional conferences, served on more than 100 dissertation committees and has chaired dozens of senior theses and honors theses.

“His mentoring of (his students) has been wonderful. There literally have been hundreds of students he’s helped in that regard over the last few years,” said David Hansen, chair of the psychology department. “He loves to be in the classroom, he loves working with students outside of the classroom…. He’s so dedicated and enthused and students see that, recognize that, and love to work with him and be in his classes.”

– Story by Sara Gilliam, University Communications

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  1. this is a great article Cal. you are a keeper! aunt sue and uncle pete

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