“Psychology is the science of being a person,” Nielsen says. “Every day I learn something new in the media or in what I read, and I find connections I can bring to the classroom to help students better understand what makes us human.”
Nielsen, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his master’s and Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Alabama, joined the CC faculty in 2017 and is now an associate professor. He teaches developmental, social, special-topic and research courses.
He also serves as the director of the college’s Center for Teaching and Learning.
“My teaching style is very student-centric,” Nielsen says. “I love being able to meet students where they’re at and try to bring them to the table to better understand psychology.”
Some of Nielsen’s students come into his classroom having taken previous psychology classes, allowing him to build upon terms and concepts that they’re already familiar with. Others, however, enter the room and are introduced to the subject.
Either scenario provides a launching point for Nielsen to help his classes further explore the field.
“My students come in with lots of different interests and lots of different ideas about what they want to do in this world and how they want to apply their psychology skills,” Nielsen says. “I give them opportunities to explore their passions, to deepen their knowledge about what it is to be human, and then cultivate and tailor their educational experiences.”
“I give (students) opportunities to explore their passions, to deepen their knowledge about what it is to be human, and then cultivate and tailor their educational experiences.”Columbia College Psychology Professor Dr. Blake Nielsen
Nielsen covers a wide range of topics with his students, including but not limited to what makes humans social, how we relate to each other, why we are easily persuaded and hold on to stereotypes, what makes us cooperative, and how we love.
All the while, Nielsen builds personal connections with students in an atmosphere that promotes dialogue and discovery.
“I make it a point of emphasis to get to know my students’ names the very first week, so when the second week rolls around, I already know who they are, where they’re from and other interesting aspects about their lives,” Nielsen says. “I’m able to use that information.”
Three questions with Dr. Blake Nielsen
What career opportunities do students have with a Psychology degree from CC?
“Name the career, and a psychologist can go into that field and find a way to apply their research and knowledge. Our graduates go to lots of different areas. We have students who will work in mental health facilities to better understand and help promote those who are really struggling. We have students who are interested in criminal justice topics and will work at law centers or go to law school. We have students who will work at the local courthouse and apply their understanding about eyewitnesses and eyewitness bias and how memory works. We have a track record of students applying their sports psychology background, including as staff for major league teams. We have students plugged in with not-for-profit organizations helping young children and individuals who are disadvantaged. Students can really go into any field and apply their psychology research and knowledge effectively.”
What direction do you envision CC’s Psychology Program going in the future?
“Our program meets frequently and we really have goals and ambitions of where we would like to see the Psychology Program moving forward. We are always striving to bring the latest research and technology into the classroom. We present and provide our students with the skills and knowledge of how to use these tools before they go out into the workforce or the graduate school experience after they leave us here at Columbia College.”
How important is the concept of innovation to your teaching?
“I’m a person who is naturally curious. I’m always trying to do things differently. I think the moment that I get bored in the classroom, my students will also feel some of that energy, so I’m always trying to find new ways to do something – a new tool, a new piece of technology, a new topic. Innovation is very important in the classroom to help me grow as an educator, to really lift up my game and what I’m trying to do. For students, psychology is constantly faced with a changing landscape and environment. We have to stay on top of new topics in the real world and equip our students with that knowledge and that mindset of what they’re coming into.”