Psychology professor Patricia Smiley retires after 33 years of teaching career
After decades at Pomona College, psychology professor Patricia Smiley will teach her final classes this year. After retiring after teaching for 33 years at Claremont, Smiley will be remembered for his contributions to student learning and his presence beyond the classroom, students said.
“I was absolutely floored by the amount of dedication, perseverance, effort and overall commitment Professor Smiley creates in the classroom,” said Aashna Saraf PO ’21. Saraf, young graduate, worked in close collaboration with Smiley in the AMH-Care Lab, an intercollegiate collaboration between Pomona and Claremont McKenna College.
Smiley taught several courses during his long tenure at Pomona, his most popular courses including Child Development, Statistics in Psychology, Social-Emotional Development, and Senior Seminar. She also served as associate dean of the college and served as chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences from 2007 to 2008.
Smiley is not only known for her contributions to psychological literature, but also as a mentor to her students.
“She was just always there supporting me, cheering me on,” Saraf said. “So much so that she ran a pitch contest with me, and we ended up fundraising for the app for my thesis project, which actually funded the entire development process.”
His interest in developmental psychology stemmed from his interest in understanding how families work.
“You know, I was just interested in the communication…this back and forth,” Smiley said. “And I guess I’ve spent my whole life thinking about it and then studying it and teaching it.”
After studying Educational Psychology at the University of Chicago, Smiley applied her learnings to her classrooms by practicing innovative learning methods. She believes that the most cost-effective form of education is active learning.
“Active learning means trying to make the reading you do, the activities you do, connect with…the experience and knowledge you already have,” she said. “I just think it’s the best way to gain knowledge.”
Students say Smiley has impacted their lives by teaching them skills that go beyond those in a course curriculum.
“She taught me that sometimes the best way to take care of others can also apply to yourself,” said Luke Williams PO ’23.
Smiley believes teaching has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
“I think the most rewarding thing is that I grew up doing it, so I’m a very different teacher than I was,” Smiley said. “I feel like I’ve been able to incorporate my experience and my personality into my teaching more and more over the years, and what’s exciting is seeing students get excited about things that I find interesting.
But students also recognized his strength in building teacher-student relationships.
“She was also very concerned about what’s going on in your life, as opposed to what’s going on in the classroom,” Saraf said. “She made sure you brought your whole being to work and to class so you could engage properly, and she always made accommodations and adjustments accordingly.”
From the editorial board to the student affairs committee, Smiley influenced students beyond his department. Within her department, students say she took care of her students by going above and beyond the duties of her role as a mentor.
In one instance, Smiley realized that the seniors she mentored during the thesis writing process felt overwhelmed.
“Smiley said, ‘I feel like you need something to cuddle. Like, do you have anything to cuddle? And the following Thursday, she came in with basically a sign-up sheet with all sorts of pillow pets,” said Anna Sipowicz PO ’22.
Even during the pandemic, the unprecedented circumstances did not hinder his teaching.
“It seemed that in the remote setting, the students were able to struggle with less at a time.” said Smiley. “So I started thinking about the form of modules, like three or four little things, little lessons that I wanted to do each class period.”
Smiley intends to continue her writing projects over the next two years, such as studying longitudinal datasets of families during COVID-19. On top of that, she started training as a psychological therapist. As she left, she said she left two main feelings behind: first, gratitude for the wonderful staff and students she worked with, especially the faculty. this have retired recently. Second, she hopes Pomona finds a talented successor who will continue her teaching in developmental psychology.
“I hope the Department of Psychological Sciences hires a fantastic developmental psychologist because this is such an important area of work and learning,” Smiley said. “That would be a happy legacy for me.”