Inspiring Teacher: Clay Routledge, professor of psychology
Published April 2019
Clay Routledge teaches cultural psychology and experimental social psychology. He runs an active laboratory where students can be involved in all aspects of psychological research, conduct their own projects and present them at local and national conferences.
Routledge, who joined NDSU in 2007, is a renowned professor of psychology and behavioral scientist. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Missouri Southern State University and his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR PROFESSION?
I never imagined myself as a professor when I was in college. In high school, my guidance counselor said I wasn’t even college material. Obviously, I ignored him, went to college and turned out to be a very good college student. I was fascinated with how the human mind works and, specifically, how psychological needs connect with social behavior and beliefs so I decided to go into social psychology with an emphasis in studying basic psychological motives.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING?
The older I get, the more I appreciate being in a profession where I get to regularly interact with intellectually curious and motivated young adults. I suppose because I wasn’t a particularly great student in high school and didn’t even really like school until I got to college, I especially appreciate the opportunity to excite and inspire students. I want them to see that getting to attend college is a privilege that many in this world don’t have and that they should cherish and take full advantage of it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS OR TOPIC TO TEACH?
I really enjoy teaching cultural psychology because it reveals not just the many ways that people differ as a function of their cultural background but also how they are psychologically quite similar despite cultural differences. Studying culture from a psychological standpoint is both a way to explore the diversity of the human experience and to interrogate basic human nature. Humans are not blank slates solely fashioned by our social environment. We are biological organisms that have inherent needs and inclinations, regardless of our environment.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST MOMENT OF YOUR TEACHING CAREER SO FAR?
I had a student whose family moved to the U.S. just a few years before he started college. He really struggled with English. He also had to work many hours to help support an ill family member and experienced a number of other challenges. In so many ways his life was very tough compared to many other students. And yet, he was always optimistic, willing to work extra hard, and very grateful. He never gave up and ended up doing very well in college and going on to graduate school. It was a real honor to be able to work with him and help him pursue his academic goals. And this is just one particularly notable example. I’ve had many great opportunities at NDSU to work with highly motivated and resilient students.