Center for Excellence Honoree: Carrie BulgerIf there is one thing that can make almost all psychology majors shake in their boots, it is the word "statistics."
"They come in filled with fear," said Professor Carrie Bulger, associate professor of psychology. "Many of my students say they are math-phobic; some of them really are. They don't know what to expect, and they are apprehensive."
To make her statistics class fun and less intimidating, Bulger created a game called "Stats Jeopardy." She might tell the class, "This is when you find a relationship between two things." And the first team to answer, "What is a correlation?" scores points.
"That game is loud, raucous and the students really like it," she said. "But in addition to having fun, they are developing a good foundation in statistics, and that's extremely important."
Her unique approach to teaching, and her genuine concern for her students led Bulger to be selected as one of six employees to be recognized at this year's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students' annual dinner on Thursday, Oct. 20, in the Recreation Center. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Service to Students encourages, supports and recognizes superior teaching and service to students at Quinnipiac.
"It is a pretty amazing award and I'm incredibly honored and astounded," she said.
Student Laura Metrano of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., a senior psychology major, was one of several students who nominated Bulger for the award.
"Professor Bulger likes to get the class involved and does not move on to another topic until she believes all the students have a grip on the subject at hand," she wrote. "She can also make boring subjects seem fun and interesting by making us play a game with it, for example, Stats Jeopardy. She is a brilliant, funny and understanding person. She taught me that it is possible to go into a class absolutely dreading it and to come out feeling like you learned something."
Bulger earned her bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota-Morris in 1994. She continued her education at the University of Connecticut where she completed a masters/doctoral program in industrial/organizational psychology in 2000.
"As a graduate student, I taught labs for the undergrads at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University and I really loved it," she said. "You can't really know any subject well until you teach it. I also found it really fun to be in front of a classroom."'
She interviewed at Quinnipiac in the spring of 2000 and "I just fell in love with the place," she said. "The faculty was wonderful, everyone seemed so happy, and the campus was beautiful."
Bulger said Quinnipiac's emphasis on both teaching and research appeals to her varied interests. Right now, Bulger is conducting research with a colleague about how the use of the Internet and other technology blurs the boundary between work and home.
"She is by far the most influential and caring teacher I have ever had," said student April Glassey '05 of East Meadow, N.Y., a psychology maor, who also nominated Bulger for the award. "Professor Bulger has taught me not only all about the business world, but how to conduct myself in that atmosphere. (She gives us) real work-like presentations and reports. She really believes in her students and in turn that makes us learn more and feel like we can accomplish more."
Most of Bulger's psychology students are planning to attend graduate school.
"I tell them they need to think short-term and long-term. Although your interests may change, if you're going to a graduate program, you need to know what you're going to be doing when you finish," she said.
"If you're going directly into the job market with a bachelor's degree, you may end up starting at a lower level than you might have expected," she said. "I tell them, 'Stay motivated, work hard and ask for new opportunities.' The latter is something that I think students need to practice and I plan to incorporate more of that into my classes this year."
Bulger has been instrumental in promoting internship experiences for students pursuing industrial/organizational psychology. Just this past summer, her students worked in the human resources department at Time-Warner Cable in New York and at real-estate management company in Manhattan, and in leadership and organizational development at a company in Worcester, Mass.
"This teacher is just an all-around great individual," wrote student Julie Abramson of Hamden, Conn., a junior psychology major, in her nomination. "She makes students feel very confident with themselves and is very helpful and supportive with class work, as well as things going on outside of school."
Bulger said she takes a flexible approach to teaching and refuses to be a slave to a syllabus. She was recently teaching a class, and the discussion veered off into employment law, with students delving into weighty issues like affirmative action, sexual harassment and how it was applied in the workplace. They devoted a full class to the topic, although it wasn't part of the course.
"It can be a little scary when you spend a class covering material that wasn't part of the course curriculum," she said. "But I want my students to be involved in their education and in making the class relevant to them."
She said she preaches to her students that the one thing that they must do in the working world is be well-prepared for meetings and presentations.
"My one gripe with my students is that they don't study as much as I'd like them to," she said. "And most of them are so honest that if they didn't prepare for class, they'll tell me so. But at the same time I tell them to be prepared, and if they're not, they need to be ready to participate any way. Because sooner or later you'll be in a workplace meeting, and you didn't get the memo, and you have to talk about it.
"Last semester I had a student who had not read the article assigned for homework. I told her she should participate as best she could and that she shouldn't have let on that she was unprepared," she said. "She ended up being one of the biggest contributors to the discussion."
When asked whether she has any amusing stories from her teaching career, Bulger started to laugh. Two came to mind and both involved beverages.
"It was my second week at Quinnipiac and I had a bottle of Diet Coke," she recalls, remembering one of her most embarrassing moments as a professor. "I opened it in front of the class, and it exploded. It went everywhere. I was mortified. I was covered in Diet Coke," she said. "Of course my students loved it, because it made me more human.
"In the same class, on a different day, a student fell asleep in the back of room. I wondered whether I should wake her up. She fell forward and knocked over a cup of coffee, and it spilled all over her desk. She kept on sleeping. She didn't wake up until the end of class, when she was lying in a pool of coffee. It was an experience I'll never forget," she said.
The student must have learned her lesson, because she never fell asleep in Bulger's class again.
Outside of work, Bulger and her partner, Ben, enjoy visiting nightclubs to listen to all types of music, especially jazz and blues. Her hobbies include reading and cooking. For the past three summers, she has been a shareholder in an organic vegetable farm, which has allowed her to have an unusual and delicious selection of fresh vegetables to experiment with in her cooking.