History and Mission

Brief History and Mission of the Department of Psychology


The University of Southern Mississippi was founded as Mississippi Normal College in 1910. In 1912, a single course, Psychology, was offered. Subsequently, several psychology courses were offered, all linked with the original mission of the University, training teachers.

In 1940, the Psychology Department was formed. Post World War II, there was a growing interest in psychology, and the Department grew to five faculty members by the late 1940’s. The 1950’s are marked by considerable growth in psychology offerings at the University serving not only psychology students, but also graduate students in Education. Service delivery began in 1953 through the Psychology Clinic, one of the first settings offering such psychological services in the region. A Masters Degree program was approved in 1958 with a doctoral program approved in 1960. The first Ph.D.s were granted in 1963.

In approximately 1958, within the newly formed School of Education and Psychology, the Department of Counseling and Guidance, the precursor of the Department of Counseling Psychology was formed, issuing its first doctorate in 1962 and establishing itself as a state and regional leader in the training and preparation of counselor personnel. Under the leadership of Dr. John Alcorn as the Department Chair, the Department broadened its scope of training to include rehabilitation and mental health. During the 1970’s, the focus shifted even more with the emergence of the program in Counseling Psychology while still maintaining its training in the areas of school counseling and college personnel services.

Today’s Department of Psychology was born in 1992 through the merger of the Psychology Department and the Department of Counseling Psychology, with Dr. John Alcorn as its inaugural Department Chair. By that time, the Department was comprised of approximately 35 faculty members and is a vibrant department comprised of a robust undergraduate program, four doctoral training programs (Experimental, Clinical, School, and Counseling) and a terminal Masters Program in Counseling Psychology. The three applied programs, School, Clinical, and Counseling are all fully accredited by the American Psychological Association, with the Counseling and Clinical Programs receiving full accreditation in 1979 and the School Program in 1983. It is believed that the Department of Psychology is the only department in the country with three fully accredited applied programs located within the same department.

Departmental Mission:

The mission of the Department of Psychology is to engage in the discovery and creation of knowledge associated with psychological and biological processes and their relationship to human and animal behavior and to disseminate that knowledge through the scholarship and teaching processes. To these ends, faculty and students in the undergraduate and graduate programs comprise the learning community through which these endeavors coexist. The Department strives to nurture in its students, staff and faculty a collegial environment that has at its core the value of respect for individuals from diverse backgrounds with regard to ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, faith, socioeconomic status, nationality, language, culture, and ability. Furthermore, the faculty, staff, and students in the Department aspire to the highest ethical standards of the profession in the teaching and research processes and fully support the overarching mission of The University of Southern Mississippi.

Undergraduate Training Mission:

Psychology is the study of human and animal behavior, and application of that knowledge for the betterment of humankind. Accordingly, students are mentored to think as young scientists within a broad-based liberal arts tradition. Throughout the Undergraduate Program, students develop effective communication, writing, and technological skills. Students are trained in the basic concepts of psychology and the methods of scientific inquiry and learn how to become critical consumers of research. Undergraduates are encouraged to participate in active research as a component in their degree programs. Graduates are prepared for a wide range of career opportunities in law, business, mental health, social services, and education. Additionally, undergraduate training in the Department prepares students well for advanced training in psychology and other related fields.

Graduate Training Mission:

Scientific research is the core mission of all graduate programs in the Department. Graduate programs seek to prepare students to become competent professional researchers, mental health professionals, and psychologists who approach the science and practice of psychology from an empirical perspective. With sound training in human and animal behavior, psychological assessment, research methods, consultation, treatment and intervention processes, all students are prepared and expected to engage in scientific research in their respective specialty areas, thereby contributing to the science of inquiry. Engagement in research and scholarship activities is basic to success within graduate programs at USM and is expected of all faculty and graduate students. Graduate research faculty are expected to serve as models and mentors for graduate students in all aspects of professional development including teaching, scholarship and service to the profession.