History of NMU's Psychology Department

When Northern opened in 1899, psychology, as a part of the Education Department, was offered to prepare future teachers for “everyday human contact.” Courses and faculty were limited. In 1957, Dr. Jean Rutherford came to Northern and the department began to grow. The first psychology major was offered in 1964 and old courses were eliminated and new ones added. By 1968, the department had become independent of the Education Department.

In 1972, Dr. Pryse Duerfeldt became head of the department. During his 25-year tenure, he led the department in creating a student-oriented program that produced students who were well prepared for the next stage of their careers. Three program tracks were developed and implemented: a general program for students with a general liberal arts focus, a program for graduate school-bound students and a behavior technology emphasis. A fourth track, community psychology, was developed but never implemented due to a lack of funding. All programs were founded on hard data and scientific methodology.

Faculty teaching, research and community work became augmented by student apprentices and these apprenticeships became an integral part of the teaching-learning process. In some years, nearly 60 percent of the graduates went on to graduate schools around the country. The department developed and regularly used evaluation methods for all aspects of the program so that advising, teaching, service, alumni placement and other functions were quantified and could be used by the department and faculty members, both as a tool for improvement and a statement of performance. As a result, the department set an evaluation and outcome model that others could emulate. By using this program feedback and maintaining regular contact with and receiving feedback from its alumni, the department was able to continually reconsider and improve its programs, learning opportunities and the way in which they were offered.

Today, the department promotes the discovery, transmission and application of the scientific principles of psychology within the university and community. In the context of programs and courses that are nurtured by the data of current knowledge, direct student involvement in the process of research, teaching and service and quality of advisement, the mission is interpreted to include: 1) educate students to think critically and creatively about both the practical and theoretical aspects of the science of psychology; 2) advancing the frontiers of psychological science and communicating this science to the university and community; and 3) preparing students for success in the next stage of their careers.

The Psychology Department started the university’s longest-running public colloquium. First opened on a weekly basis in the 1980s, the psychology colloquia today continue on a bi-weekly schedule during the academic year.

Department heads: Joel West 1969-70; John W. P. Ost, 1970-72; Wilbert Berg (acting), 1972; Pryse Duerfeldt, 1972-97; Harry Whitaker, 1997-2003; Shelia Burns, 2003-present.

Source: A Sense of Time: The Encyclopedia of Northern Michigan University.