Dr. Brenda Whitehead is the newest addition to the Grace College School of Behavioral Sciences. Whitehead has been published in more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and brings a wealth of research experience with her for our students to learn from. Her academic prowess is matched with a genuine passion for Christ and a dedication to see him in the midst of her research and work. We hope you enjoy getting to know more about Dr. Whitehead as much as we did!
1. Why did you decide to go into the field of Behavioral Sciences?
From the time I was a kid, I’ve loved “people-watching” — just sitting on a bench in a public place, and simply observing people go about their daily lives. It’s fascinating! I’ve also always been a very internal processor, and the connections among cognition, emotion, and behavior have always gotten my wheels turning. I think this naturally led to me finding my way to psychology in college where I devoured all of my psych textbooks. I even read the sections the professor didn’t assign (gasp)! After I had the opportunity to conduct my own independent research project in my sophomore year, I was hooked. As the first in my family to earn a college degree, the idea of grad school was completely foreign (and terrifying!); but thanks to the encouragement of my professors, I submitted those applications. I will always be grateful for their support!
2. Where did you attend undergraduate and graduate school? What were your degrees in?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Northwest Nazarene University, a small Christian liberal arts college in Idaho that is similar to Grace in size and mission. I earned my Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Lifespan Developmental Psychology from the University of Notre Dame.
3. Where are you originally from? When did you move to Indiana?
I am originally from the Pacific Northwest — I was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in Walla Walla, Washington (the town so nice they named it twice!). I made my way out to Indiana in 2008 for grad school at Notre Dame and met my husband Bruce, who is from Syracuse, Indiana, while there. After living in Michigan for the past eight years, we decided it was time to come “home” to Indiana. We’ve now been living in Warsaw for a couple of weeks, and my two boys (4 and 6) are loving all of the wide open spaces to run, jump, and catch tadpoles.
4. What courses will you be teaching at Grace? Which course is most exciting to you and why?
I’m a developmental psychologist with a research specialty in aging, so along with general psych courses like Introduction to Psychology and Research Methods, I’ll be teaching courses on Lifespan Development, the Psychology of Aging, and other courses with a developmental emphasis. Although I enjoy all of these courses, I’d have to say my favorite is Psychology of Aging. Aging is something we usually don’t want to think about (especially when we are young!), but there is so much growth and development that happens throughout our lives, including in our final decades. Throughout scripture, God places great value on old age. For example, in Proverbs 16:31, we read, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.” As a professor, it is exciting to see students more fully understand and appreciate the inherent value and vibrancy of life, whether one is 18 or 88. And hearing students admit that learning about aging was actually “fun”? That’s icing on the cake!
6. What experience have you gained in the field of behavioral sciences?
I am a research psychologist, rather than a clinician. That means that I study behavior and psychological experience, specifically in the area of adult development and aging. I have 15 years experience in conducting research studies in a variety of modalities, including in-person interviews, mail-in surveys, and online assessments. This research has resulted in 20 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, mostly on topics related to stress, coping, and the aging experience. On the teaching side of things, I have taught courses on development, research methods, statistics, and general psychology for over a decade. I spent the last eight years at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where I enjoyed engaging with the diverse student body and forging both research and teaching-related community connections in the Detroit area.
7. How does your faith inform the way you teach behavioral science?
My faith is central to all that I do, and therefore naturally informs how I frame and communicate psychological principles in the classroom. Even when I was at a so-called “secular” school, my faith guided my course emphases — the sanctity of life from conception through death, the universal human yearning for something “more,” and how over and over research reveals faith to be one of the most helpful resources when we face the inevitable challenges of life. I look forward to the opportunity to be more overt about integrating faith and psychology research now that I am at Grace, as research in psychology and the behavioral sciences consistently bears out the truth we find in Scripture. I am a firm believer in the idea that God has equipped us with the ability to investigate His created reality via scientific study and that in this, He reveals Himself — and His perfect design — to us. We are beautifully and wonderfully made!
8. What are you most looking forward to about teaching at Grace?
So many things! I am looking forward to a smaller, more familial atmosphere; I am looking forward to integrating faith and psychology more overtly in my work life; I am looking forward to getting to know a whole new group of students and colleagues; and I am looking forward to forging new connections with the people and community organizations in Kosciusko county where I hope I can contribute in some way with my research.
9. What is a little-known fact about you?
I’ll give you 3!
1.) I love classic movies and musicals. Give me some Singin’ in the Rain, Meet me in St. Louis, or High Society, and I’m a happy gal.
2.) I’m super competitive! Whether it’s sports, backyard games, or an indoor game night, I want to WIN! Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m playing with my 4-year-old though… 😉
3.) I am a creative soul. Apart from my prayer/Bible time, doing something creative is my greatest source of stress relief. I write children’s stories and poetry, I draw and paint, and I have recently learned how to create digital art in Adobe Illustrator. I started out as a graphic design major in college, and although doing it as a career wasn’t for me, finding time for art and creative writing as a hobby helps keep me balanced!