Assistant Professor of Psychology Talks About Her Childhood, Struggles And Teaching

By D.C. Miles
Junior Editor

tv_News 10dbMONTICELLO – Krista Nelson, assistant professor of psychology, followed a long path to where she is now.

Growing Up

   Nelson said she was born and raised in Atkins.

   “Atkins is small town, but I was fortunate to have great parents. My dad still lives in Atkins. I didn’t have any brothers and sisters of my own, but we had a very, very active church life, so I always had kids around,” Nelson said.

   Nelson said her closest form of siblings would be her male cousins who lived close.

   “I was probably a tom boy because of that. I couldn’t really show any fear. I’d have a snake in my bed or crawdads in my hair,” she said.

   She said her parents encouraged her education from the beginning.

   “I graduated high school from Atkins. We actually lived outside of town, but I went to Atkins K-12. My mother would always say before she passed away, ‘I told you go to college. It was for you to get out of it not for you to get out of college.’ It was never ‘are you going to college?’ it was ‘where are you going to college?'” Nelson said.

   She said she began college at the University of Central Arkansas, attending for three years. There, she met the man who would become her husband.

   “I met him at a softball tournament while playing traveling softball. He was my umpire. He tried to throw me out of the ball game. I had a friend on the team, and one of his friends was dating her,” Nelson said.

   Nelson got married her junior year around the Christmas holidays, and they immediately move to Oklahoma.

   “We’ve been together ever since. He took a job in Kansas. We were in a long distance relationship so that’s where I finished up school,” she said.

Education and Struggles

   Nelson said her mother showed support in her studies toward receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

   “When I first told her I was going on to graduate school to get my doctorate, she looked at me and said, ‘Are you going to get out and get a job anytime soon?’ So, I don’t know if she really supported it (at first). Once she found out I was serious about it, she was very supportive then,” she said.

   Nelson said she still thought her mother felt disappointed in her not starting work sooner. But, she said she believes her father preferred her to receive a business degree, so she could open up her own business.

   “In the state of Arkansas, you can do therapy with a master’s degree,” Nelson said. “I was getting my master’s, and I had already worked for a while when I decided I wanted to get my doctorate.”

   Nelson said graduate school can be a love/hate experience. She said she especially dreaded her dissertation.

   “I hated that dissertation. I was happy to get it down, but I didn’t want to read it again because it was so long. I didn’t want to see it again,” she said.

   Nelson said she was fortunate as an undergrad student. She said she would have to work through college, and she acknowledged that most students had to do the same.

   She said she finished her undergraduate studies and moved to Texas where her husband took a job opportunity.

   “I was graduated in May and was supposed to start a graduate program in August.  So, I went and enrolled in the University of Texas at Tyler. I received scholarships for this program,” Nelson said.

   Nelson said she attended the graduate program for a short time before she realized she needed to take a break.

   “I went for a little bit, and I don’t know if I was just burned out or what, but I knew it just wasn’t going to work. I needed to withdraw, and I did. I ended up taking several years off,” she said.

   Nelson said she then relocated to Arkansas and began substitute teaching. She said she realized it was time for her to go back to school and decided to enroll at Southern Arkansas University.

   “It took me about two years to get that done, but it was worth it,” she said.

   Nelson said she had a child, and a lot of her peers in graduate school did not have a child. She said her peers were also single, whereas she had a husband.

   Nelson said she also had struggles with travel and studies, “commuting two hours each way to school while most people lived within 15 to 20 minutes of school.”

   “Trying to make sure I got to school on time, and my family was taken care of – that was a struggle. My husband was in law school at UALR at the time, and so my now 16 year old would have to go to my friend’s house, who was her baby sitter, and we’d pick her up at ten thirty to eleven at night because of the night classes we had.  He went one way, and I went the other,” she said.

   Nelson said she and her family resided in Warren at that time, struggling to manage home life, being a student, wife and mother.

   “That was my biggest struggle,” she said.

   She said her dissertation was the hardest part of school, not the class work.

   “When you’re working on a doctorate, you’re also teaching and doing research work. You’re working in a clinic so many hours a week because it’s mandatory that you have so many clinics. It’s just difficult making sure you get everything done, and that nothing is forgotten,” Nelson said.

   She said that at one time she felt as though she would not finish the doctorate.

   “I’d call my dissertation instructor and say ‘I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. I give up.’ There were times when I thought if I have to ever read another article on general conflict or theory of failure, it’d be entirely too soon,” Nelson said.

   Nelson said her instructor brought her back to reality, helping her grasp her potential and determination.

Recollections and Inspiration

   “I have some extended family with mental health issues that inspired me to learn how to deal with it,” Nelson said.

   She said she has family members with addiction and other mental health disorders that made her more interested in the psychological aspect of what might have been going on.

   “I don’t think of this as the defining moment as to why I chose this career, but I’m pretty sure it influenced it,” she said.

   Nelson said she recalled a particular college roommate at UCA who suffered from severe depression.

   “I didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t know if I was supposed to call her mom. Looking back, there was cause to worry about suicide. I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know enough about mental health to worry about her being suicidal. Looking back, if it were my daughter in that situation, I’d say call her parents and worry about suicide,” Nelson said.

   Nelson said she was studying on the undergraduate level at the time. She said she did not know anything ‘other than the basics.’

   “It was frightening to me to see this vibrant, energetic, very outgoing individual completely shut down,” Nelson said.

   Now, at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, she said that frequently students come and ask if they should call someone about their roommate.

   “My answer is yes – if you’re that worried, call someone to get them some type of help or intervention. They might become angry, even deciding to never talk to them again, but it is worth saving their life,” she said.

 &Nbsp; Nelson now works in the mental health field and sees this all the time.

   She said she already loved psychology coming out of high school. She also said she did not feel conscious in thinking she would help her family and others.

Teaching

   Nelson said she tries to provide plenty of enthusiasm in her lectures, bringing guest speakers, showing videos and movies, so she does not always have to teach out of the textbook. She also said she tries to enhance the materials in the books.

   “I’m not trying to knock the textbook down, but just give it some energy. I just try to make it exciting. It has a lot of exciting aspects,” she said.

   Nelson said she attempts anything to get her students interest piqued.

   “One of my favorite TV shows is Criminal Minds. Sometimes, I will bring in some of the comments by Reed Spencer, who is one of the characters on the show. It kind of has that psychological aspect,” Nelson said.

   Thomas Springer, dean of social and behavioral sciences said, “She’s very student oriented. Before this year, she was not eligible to be a student advisor, but now that she’s permanent she is.”

   Nelson explains how there are many other aspects to psychology other than Freud, Skinner and Corleone.

   “We have valid principals that can be applied to everyday life. There’s more than just talking about some theorists that aren’t even alive anymore,” she said.

   Springer said Nelson has already started committees and got involved in student organizations.

   “She not only works well with her own colleagues, but with other areas as well … sociology, criminal justice,” Springer said.

   Nelson said she co-sponsors Psi Chi, the honorary psychology association, which is sponsored by Myeong Kim, associate professor of psychology. The two professors plan to help reactivate the chapter.

   “We always try to get our students involved and active in psychology here on this campus. I think we need to have some more activities that they’re interested in,” she said.

   Nelson acknowledges her excitement in digging in to the program, but keeps steady, not trying to do too much.

   “I’m still pretty new here though, so it’s baby steps,” she said.

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