Dr. James Olson has the distinction of having been on the faculty at The University of Texas Permian Basin since it opened in 1973. As such, he knows more about the University and the online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program than most. Dr. Olson graciously took some time to share his thoughts about the benefits of studying psychology online with UT Permian Basin, the role surfing played in his career choice, and the power and importance of a person’s name.
Foundations for a Future Education Pioneer
Dr. Olson wanted to be a teacher as far back as he can remember, and his parents’ pride in their own education played a role. But as the Southern California native explains, that wasn’t the only reason. “I just wanted to surf all the time, and I figured, if I was a teacher, I could catch some waves every day around 3 or 4 o’clock as opposed to [what’s possible in] an 8-to-5 job.” As Dr. Olson continued his college career, he began to focus on his professional future. “I took an introductory psychology course at Santa Barbara City College and I was happy to have a wonderful teacher named Mr. Cox. Basically, he just turned me on to psychology.”
After completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in California, Dr. Olson made his way to Texas, where he began teaching at the newly opened UT Permian Basin. He would later serve as chair of the Department of Psychology and director of the Division of Behavioral Sciences, but first, he’d hone his teaching skills as a pioneer in online education. “Man, I was one of the early guys. We started at UT Permian Basin with three courses. One of those three was mine. That was probably .”
Starting in a new educational medium had its challenges for the longtime professor. “I needed a good computer, and I needed somebody to help me out. Luckily, my son knew what he was doing.” With his extensive teaching experience, Dr. Olson had no concerns about his ability and the capability of his colleagues to provide the same world-class education online that they provide on campus. “Well, first of all, our professors are good. They care. They’re available, and they give everyone unconditional positive regard. We use the same tests we would use face to face. We use the same writing assignments face to face. We grade things the same way—fairly and consistently. It’s the same stuff, just a different medium.”
Creating Lasting Connections
Dr. Olson further explained how the dedication of UT Permian Basin’s faculty enhances the online learning experience. “[We] are really available 24/7, and I’m not just giving lip service to that. I check emails at least 15 times a day, and that means Saturdays and Sundays too.”
This availability is just one of the ways professors such as Dr. Olson build a rapport and connect with online students. “You get to know them by first knowing and using their names. I can’t stress the importance or the value of someone’s name [enough]. That’s who we are, and behind our name is a story, and in fact many, many stories. I just use first names, and I ask students to use my first name, too. I’m not Dr. Olson, I’m Jim.”
To make sure his students feel connected with one another, Dr. Olson also asks them to use each other’s names. “In weekly exercises, I’ll discuss some topic briefly that I provide, and then they’ve got to respond to a student who commented on the very same topic. And I tell them, ‘When you make your initial comment, sign your name. And then when you respond to a fellow student, use their name.’ I’ll tell ya, there’s just something strange about names that facilitates engagement. Every name is a unique individual who comes with their own biology, their own environment. Their own value. I think that’s what we do for our students—we accentuate their value.”
Building Crucial Skills and Characteristics
Strong communication is one of the key skills students develop in the BA in psychology program. “A lot of them don’t see it right away, but they’re leaving with real world skills. In whatever profession, organization, agency they’re gonna go into, they’re going to be talking, they’re gonna be communicating, and they’re going to have to write. We teach them writing skills. Those who write better, those who communicate better, will rise up the [career] ladder quicker than those who don’t.”
Still, gaining professional skills isn’t the only reason to study psychology, Dr. Olson noted. “What psychology can do is help us all treat people with civility. To not be abusive, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes people say dumb things and they don’t mean to say them. One can deal with people effectively if one deals with their uniqueness. So, we teach them that everyone is different and special. We just have all these special gifts, and we accept and accentuate those. Everyone has a strength.”
In addition to fostering career and interpersonal skills, Dr. Olson takes great joy in helping students build self-confidence. “I think my favorite class to teach is [Introductory] Statistics. When students hear the word statistics, they say ‘Oh my, goodness gracious.’ They go ‘Yuck, puke,’ you know? They don’t want to do that math stuff. The fun part for me as a teacher is to show them that they can do it. It’s a confidence builder. By the time they come out of that class, they say, ‘Oh, man, that wasn’t so hard.’ People really do a mind shift in that class.”
Apply now to our online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program to develop skills and qualities that can help you in your professional and personal life. Dr. Olson and other experienced, dedicated professors are eager to guide you on your educational journey.