After a job change early in her career, Dr. Jamie Hughes found herself farther away from doing what she loved. That’s when she decided to go back to graduate school, where she pursued her interest in psychology and teaching. Earning master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology eventually led to her becoming a psychology department chair and professor for The University of Permian Basin.
Dr. Hughes graciously spent some time speaking with us about her experience teaching UT Permian Basin’s online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program, what brings her joy about her role, and why a psychology degree is possibly the most beneficial education credential any career-minded individual can have.
Catalysts for a Career in Psychology Education
Dr. Hughes’ journey from future college student to distinguished university professor had many driving forces along the way. As she explained, “My mother was a seamstress for General Motors in Detroit and her whole family did the same thing. I wanted to do something that involved being around people. Helping people. I’m also awful with my hands, so I don’t even know if I’d be good at that job,” she added with a laugh.
What set her in the direction of psychology was a teacher she had during her undergraduate studies. “I took Intro to Psychology, and my professor, Robert Hendersen, was just so engaging. He would tell these stories that would really kind of make the content more alive. I just enjoyed the classes and I felt like I could relate the content to the real world and what was happening in the news and with my family.”
Upon finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Dr. Hughes worked as a case manager for a program called Work First. “The idea was that folks would come in and learn about career skills. How to build a resume. And I loved those classes. I just liked interacting with people. That job was cool, but I actually got a promotion, and the [new position] didn’t allow me to interact with people anymore on that same level. So, I decided to go back to grad school, because I really liked psychology and teaching was on my mind, as was research.”
Challenges of Teaching an Online Program
After teaching in a campus-based classroom for a few years, Dr. Hughes began teaching classes online for UT Permian Basin in 2012. “It was really hard at first, because not only did I start teaching online at UT Permian Basin, I started teaching the 7-week, 8-week courses, so it was online and fast-paced. It takes a little bit of getting used to. You have to think about, ‘How can I get [students] engaged without being there?’ I’ll add a lot of things to the modules that kind of give each content area a little more personality. That’s how you can reach them.”
Ensuring the online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program offers the same high-quality education as the on-campus program is among Dr. Hughes’ top priorities. “I kind of do it in two ways,” she explained. “One is with the level of feedback. When you’re face to face, sometimes you can give feedback to a lot of people at once. But I think online teaching really forces you to individualize your feedback.” The other way, Dr. Hughes explained, is through the material itself. “Most of my classes focus on the application of the concepts, rather than just learning a concept in and of itself. That’s consistent across my face-to-face and online classes.”
Rewards of Teaching an Online Program
Though the online format presented unique challenges, Dr. Hughes has also found it provides significant rewards. As she explained, “Sometimes when I form relationships with students online, it’s a little bit closer, because they feel more anonymity in terms of what they can write in an email.” She mentioned a student who recently reached out to her about a serious family issue. “If we were in [a campus-based] class, would she have come into my office and told me that, or would she just have dropped out of school? I told her, ‘You can worry about my class later, but now you take care of you and your family.’”
Over time, Dr. Hughes discovered that it’s possible to build close and lasting relationships with students while teaching online. “A few years back, I had an online student come into my office. I was delighted to find out that he came to meet me and just have a conversation and ask some questions, some career advice. That made me feel good because, at least for this person, I was able to communicate that I’m approachable. Come ask me questions. I’m here to support you in your career journey. I want people to take advantage of that, because that’s my job. I’m happy to do it. You know, that brings me joy.”
Providing career direction and advice to students is an aspect of the program Dr. Hughes finds truly rewarding. “When students contact me and they want to have a conversation about, ‘What kind of career do you think I’m gonna like? What do you think I’m best suited for?’ You know, I just think that’s so cool. I like to help those students be thoughtful about either what’s my next step or what can I do to bring more joy and happiness to my life? Ideally, what you want to do is provide a program to people so that they can live better lives.”
Dr. Hughes went on to explain one of the ways she builds a rapport with students while helping them get more out of the program. “If you take a class from me, you find out I’m a podcast junkie,” she said. “I’m always finding a new podcast or something new to listen to and say, ‘Hey guys, this is really cool.’ And I’ll put it in one of the modules, and I’ll apologize to students ahead of time, saying I’m sort of a junkie, so bear with me. You don’t necessarily have to listen to these, but they might improve your comprehension of this concept.”
Critical Skills and Professional Prospects for Psychology Degree Holders
Dr. Hughes had very compelling reasons to recommend earning a BA in psychology from UT Permian Basin. “If you’re considering a degree in the liberal arts or the social sciences, psychology is superior to most other majors because of the number of skills you leave with. It’s very marketable, not only in terms of your ability to reason and consume information in a skeptical, critical way, but also interpersonal and team skills. They’ve done research, and most employers want somebody who’s a team player. And I think psychology teaches you how to [be one]. How to take other people’s perspectives. What empathy looks like. How to get into other people’s heads to understand them better. There’s a lot of hard skills we can talk about, but I think psychology sort of has an edge over other majors in the soft skills.”
Many students also leave Dr. Hughes’ program as better writers. “Many of my classes are writing intensive,” she explained. “You really get to see [students’] improvements over time.” Perhaps an even more unique benefit of the program is its ability to help students grapple with uncertainty. “I always tell students, if nothing else, with a psychology degree, you’re gonna build a tolerance for ambiguity. Once you get into the real world and start working, you realize that you really need to be a little more flexible.”
With regard to UT Permian Basin’s psychology faculty, Dr. Hughes added, “We have really smart people that are teaching our classes. Folks who are engaged in the research literature and up to date on what’s happening in the field now. Everyone in the psychology department enjoys doing research. We’re active with scholarship.”
We join Dr. Hughes in encouraging those interested in gaining valuable life skills and highly marketable career skills to apply to our online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. With an acclaimed faculty and curriculum designed for real-world application, our program will help set you up for success in the working world and beyond.