“I want my students to discover applications for psychology in teaching, music, literature, art, business, personnel management—and in living a bigger life.”
Mike Nichols has a warm personality, gentle voice, and a teaching style that reflects his affection for the students at Transylvania. “I’m grateful to share in this extraordinary chapter of their lives,” Nichols says.
And in Nichols’ mind, the study of psychology should have a place in every student’s curriculum. “Psychology is just good for all kinds of stuff! It’s good for child raising, getting along with parents and partners, and even understanding social movements.”
He hopes students draw on insights in psychology to understand music, literature, and even themselves.
“Some of the struggles we see characters have in literature can be understood by psychology. Iago, a character in Shakespeare’s Othello, is a perfect example of the anti-social personality disorder.”
On the flip side, psychological research has also demonstrated the value of the arts for human well-being. “Psychological studies have revealed the impact of music in stimulating creativity and inducing peacefulness.”
But Nichols’ favorite application of psychology is using it to reveal his students’ full potential. As assistant to the dean of the college and part-time staff member in the career development center, psychology is central to Nichols’ commitment to helping students.
It’s his job to help interpret students’ career vocation inventories. These inventories “generate ideas that students might not have thought of before and suggest jobs that students may not have even heard of.”
As assistant to the dean, Nichols focuses on students struggling with retention. “Often students just need to talk,” Nichols says.
He speaks passionately about a session he had with a student who planned to become a pediatrician, but was not doing well in science. After a 30-minute conversation, Nichols helped her identify that it wasn’t pediatrics that she described as her dream job, but pediatric social work. “She left with a new major and something she really wanted to do,” Nichols said. “I could do that all day and never get tired.”
In the classroom, Nichols feeds off his students’ enthusiasm. He loves that moment when a concept clicks for a student for the first time. He hopes his classes are a “springboard for future learning.”
“Studies show that when fish are kept in small bowls, they swim in small circles, even when they are released into larger ponds, because they aren’t aware of the vastness of the environment.” Nichols believes that a liberal arts education teaches students to swim in bigger circles. “I want my students to know about the vastness of the pond—to live in a larger, richer world.”
Nichols' educational experiences have enriched his life outside of work. He enjoys photography, reading, writing, and opera (particularly lyric opera and works by Gilbert and Sullivan), and he collects black-and-white antique photos of film and radio stars of the early twentieth century.
“I want my students to have great careers, but I also want them to have great lives.”