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Internationalizing psychology

By Amelia Schoeneman '12
December 8, 2010

Psychology consistently ranks among the top 10 majors at St. Olaf, and it’s one of the most popular degrees pursued by undergraduates nationwide. Yet the study of psychology almost exclusively focuses on American thinking and behavior, and it is rarely part of international study programs.

St. Olaf Professor of Psychology Dana Gross is leading an effort to internationalize undergraduate psychology. Through funding she received from the Association of Midwestern Colleges’ FaCE project, she is organizing a conference that will bring faculty from other ACM institutions together this summer to discuss and develop an internationalized psychology curriculum. St. Olaf will host the two-day conference along with Carleton College.

“Psychology has been embraced by the United States, and its use in our culture has taken off past other countries,” Gross says. “Yet because of its popularity in the United States, psychology often lacks cross-cultural context.”

Incorporating a global awareness is essential, she says. “Human development is not just an interior act; it depends on outside influences.To be successful in psychology, students have to be aware of different ways of thinking that are not typical in their own culture,” she says.

Gross’ goal for the conference is to develop a curriculum that gives students the ability to recognize the effects of different cultures. At St. Olaf, study-abroad programs like Global Semester and Term in the Middle East led by psychology faculty have begun to integrate cultural perspectives into psychology. Gross recognized the value in understanding psychology across cultures, which led her to develop a new international study program. “Over my sabbatical, I planned a new international program at St. Olaf that travels to India to further examine and engage in psychological studies,” she says.

By giving the upcoming conference a practical focus, Gross hopes to encourage the development of more curriculum that increases cultural awareness. “The conference is meant to be a gathering of professors and those interested in internationalizing at other ACM colleges. It will show how others have begun to internationalize their programs, discuss proposals for courses and topics, and reach out to those who haven’t yet begun to integrate different cultural perspectives into the psychology curriculum,” she says.

Through discussions with their peers, conference attendees will learn how to most effectively incorporate cross-cultural studies into their coursework. The conference will also have two main speakers: Cornell College Professor of Psychology Carol Enns and Danish Institute for Study Abroad faculty member Helle Harnisch. Gross believes that the speakers will show the importance of international curriculum for psychology students.

“I’m excited and energized about the give-and-take with others involved in the discipline,” she says.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or