Profile Final Paper

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Emily on 08-11-2012

Larry Sensenig answers a student’s question about the Premack’s Principle. “I call it “Grandma’s rule: If you eat your broccoli, you get dessert. A subject is motivated to do something in order to get what they want. How does this relate to what your rats have been experiencing?”

It is a Friday afternoon, at precisely 2:10 p.m. Sensenig’s Learning and Memory psychology class of about 20 students is reviewing questions to prepare for their upcoming rat paper. The students participate in labs, where they have been given the responsibility to practice classical and operational conditioning techniques on white lab rats.

Surprisingly, very few students have their laptops open. Most of them take hand written notes. The few students who are using their computers are typing their notes. Sensenig has mastered the art of keeping his students captivated and not distracted by their computers and cell phones. One way he does this is in his use of humor. While giving examples of Hull’s Drive Reduction Theory, he lists basic drives that people have: food, water, shelter… “College students don’t have those, do they?” he asks with a chuckle. The class giggles in response.

Sensenig is quite tall, standing at about 6”2, with gray hair sprinkled with white. He has a white goatee, a gray moustache and very dark, thick eyebrows. In the pocket of his collared, button-plaid shirt is a pen. He wears glasses, khaki pants with a brown belt and dark brown shoes. If I didn’t already know who Larry was, I would assume he was a doctor rather than a professor.

When asked about the challenges he faces in teaching, Sensenig says that technology is a big one. “It’s been hard to keep up with advancements in technology. There are generational differences-I’m not as comfortable with technology like Powerpoint and Moodle as the younger professors or my students are. I don’t think that technology is not the secret to being a good teacher.  I don’t like to confront students about inappropriate use of technology.”

“I’ve never come to work thinking, “Oh, I hate my job,” Sensenig tells me. He didn’t set out to become a teacher. When Sensenig was an undergraduate at Bradley University, he wanted to go to graduate school for psychology. “There were two different paths I could take: either do psychology research, or teach psychology. I was told that teaching was a lot more satisfying,” he says. Sensenig is in his 39th year of teaching; he began at Morningside in 1974. “I was very nervous on my first day of teaching, especially when I was meeting students,” he says. “My favorite part of my job is watching students grow in their knowledge and expertise, and to realize I’ve been a part of that.”

Sensenig’s love of psychology goes beyond the classroom. He has been the faculty advisor for Psy Chi, the national honors society for psychology since 1975. Morningside’s chapter began in 1939 and was the 34th in the nation. “It gets the students active and enthused. It’s the highest undergraduate association for psychology.” Psych Follies, a psychology group exclusive to Morningside, started in 1993. “Psych Follies is run by the students who are “movers and shakers”. It it sponsored by the psychology department. Students and faculty make light hearted fun of each other,” Sensenig says.

Jessica Pleuss, a 2002 Morningside graduate, is a psychology professor who is now a collegue of Sensenig’s. I ask her what the biggest difference is between being his advisee and being one of his fellow professors. “I call him “Larry” instead of “Dr. Sensenig,” she says. Pleuss recalls a time when she was a student. “It was his birthday. I found a picture of him when he had just started back in the 70’s. He had big hair-a fro! It was not flattering,” she says, laughing. She brought the picture to a Psych Follies event. Sensenig thought it was funny.

Another way Sensenig defies the stereotyped “professor” is that he avoids using a monotone voice.  He speaks smoothly, with good pitch variations. His voice conveys the enthusiasm and passion he has for his students’ learning and the subject he teaches. After the class is done, I speak with Victoria Dentler, from Omaha, whose rat’s name is Cheesy. “He cares about us. He connects to his students,” she said. Kelsey Strohbehn, who named her rat “Ratatouille”, agrees. “He’s a pretty fun professor. You can tell he really loves the rats.”

I ask Sensenig about his plans for retirement. “I want to travel, especially in the fall. I want to go to Louisiana, London and go scuba diving. John Pinto and I go fishing in the boundary waters. Maybe we’ll go in September instead of June.” I ask him about what he will miss most about his job. “I’ll miss social interaction with collegues and students. I’ll miss coming to work every day. It’s an important part of one’s life.”

Sensenig will miss the joys of his work, but he looks forward to retirement with a positive attitude. “I see retirement as writing a new chapter in my life.”



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