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Campus Comfort

12/22/2010

When Dr. Sharon Claffey arrived on campus to teach psychology, it was more than the beginning of her MCLA career; it was a return to the home of her great-grandparents.

"My great-grandparents emigrated from Italy to North Adams, and my grandmother was born in North Adams," Claffey explained. "She passed away before I had the opportunity to work here, but I just know she'd be thrilled." 

Claffey came to MCLA from a postdoctoral teaching fellowship at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., where she spent three years living and teaching psychology. While she loved teaching at that university, with 35,000 students enrolled, it was simply too large for her taste.

"I taught a section of 'Introduction to Psychology' each semester that had 300 students in it.  I did not like walking across campus and having no idea if the students I saw were in one of my classes," Claffey said.  "Additionally, I spend my undergraduate years at a small liberal arts college in Worcester, Mass., at College of the Holy Cross. I knew that the liberal arts environment was what I was craving.  I wanted to get back to a smaller campus that focused on providing a quality, individualized education to its students." 

The field of psychology has always resonated with Claffey.

"There really was no other option. I couldn't get enough," she said.  During the last semester of my senior year of college, my advisor told me I wasn't allowed to take any more psychology classes, and that I needed to take electives in other disciplines."

Claffey has a master's degree in counseling psychology. However, "I got all the way through the program to my internship and hated it!  I just didn't feel like I was good at the patient-clinician interaction. So, I switched to experimental psychology and applied to Ph.D. programs in social psychology."

Social psychology was her favorite course in college. "I just love it and I love to teach it," Claffey said.

Her research in social psychology centers on social support and well-being. In previous work, she looked at married/cohabitating couples and their division of household labor, gender attitudes, perceived fairness and well-being. Currently, she is working with MCLA students on a study that looks at parents of children with chronic and terminal illness and their online support usage. 

It is her hope to expose students social psychology, as well as to research within this specialty. "I'd love to spark a passion in the future generation of psychologists," she said.

MCLA students are wonderful, said Claffey. "I have been so happy to interact with so many motivated and interesting students.  They are friendly and engaged. The campus community reminds me of a family. Faculty and administrators work closely with students and support their endeavors. I really feel at home."

What's her advice to students on how to be successful?  "Hard work pays off. Get involved in your classes. Professors are resources, just like a textbook, but hopefully more fun and interactive!"