Department History

Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney 

The psychology program began in 1905 and was headed by W.A. Clark, formerly principal of Psychology and Pedagogy at Peru. Professor Clark maintained a high profile throughout the state. While still employed by Peru Normal, Clark participated in a 1900 symposium on the History of Education in Nebraska at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the State Teacher's Association in Lincoln. In 1910 he addressed the annual meeting of the Nebraska State Institute on "General Preparation of Instructors." In addition, he served on the state-wide committee that set the standards for major and minor requirements for First Grade Certificates. By 1915, course options expanded, and Charles Emile Benson, a UNL graduate and student of Professor Harry Kirke Wolfe (who established the first psychology laboratory in the Midwest) implemented the study of the psychology of child development at Kearney Normal.

Kearney State Teacher's College (KSTC) 

In 1921 the college also organized an Extension department, correspondence study directed by Ralph Noyer to keep teachers abreast of their profession and to inform college faculty of actual teaching problems in Nebraska education. Over half of the faculty conducted classes in 27 study centers as far east as Omaha, north as Burwell, and south as Danbury. At first the student cost was only the hotel and travel expenses of the teacher, but later the college charged a three dollar per credit hour fee. One hour of credit demanded at least 15 lecture hours or eight written assignments in classes ranging from Interior Decoration and Football Coaching to College Algebra and Business Psychology.

Kearney State College (KSC) 

Until 1968, the study of psychology was housed in the Division of Education and Psychology.  The program was designed to provide students with a fundamental understanding of the psychological principles underlying teaching and learning. In addition to educational psychology courses, general and applied psychology was taught.

In 1968, two major Divisions from the KSTC years, the Division of Science and Mathematics and the Division of Social Sciences, combined to form the School of Natural and Social Sciences and the Department of Psychology was created within this new school. At first, the faculty consisted of Mr. Donald Stumpff who had received a Masters degree from Creighton University in psychopharmacology and served as Acting Chair, and Dr. Leland Asa a graduate of the University of Wyoming. The major consisted of a 16-hour core that included history and systems of psychology, experimental psychology, physiological psychology and applied statistics with an additional 15 hours of electives, many of which were cross-listed in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology. An early concern was creating a departmental identity distinct form education and educational psychology.

Donald Stumpff was chair of the department until 1972, by which time the faculty had increased to four. Mr. Stumpff (who retired in 1982) was the department's founder and the annual “Outstanding Senior in Psychology” award bears his name. At the end of his term as chair, the department established a chapter of Psi Chi: The National Honor Society in Psychology. In 1977, the department moved from an off-campus house to Founders Hall, which allowed us to consolidate our faculty offices, lab, animal colony, and classrooms.

Dr. Ernest Matuschka chaired the department from 1972-1979. In that interval, FTE’s increased to six despite KSC’s enrollment declines and subsequent reductions in force. At that time, the B.S. had a 13-hour core with 19 hours of psychology electives.

Kenneth Nikels, who received his doctorate from the University of Nebraska, served as chair from 1979-1983. During his tenure, the major increased to 35 semester hours, with a 20-hour core. More department members (7 FTE) either completed or were hired with Ph.D.’s.  An important innovation at this time was the introduction of laboratory courses to accompany advanced content courses.

In 1980, the department revised its curriculum so that scientific methodology was emphasized as a fundamental component of the field of psychology. The revision was designed to strengthen the core requirements and to add interdisciplinary tracks, including comprehensive majors in Human Factors  (abandoned in the 1990s), Psychobiology, now under the direction of Dr. Evan Hill, and a minor in Gerontology.

University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) 

In 1990, Richard L. Miller was hired to chair the department. Curriculum revision was undertaken that added lab components to our core courses in statistics and experimental psychology and to several advanced level content courses. The core program was strengthened to forestall early specialization by our majors. Over the years, Copeland Hall, built in 1918 as the campus gymnasium, had gradually converted to classroom use. Finally a $4.2 million project renovated the existing space and constructed 25,000 square feet of new classrooms, lecture halls, and office and lab space. Dedicated in 1996, the Psychology Department occupies the entire third floor of the building.

The move to Copeland Hall provided the department with student and faculty laboratories, specialized lab facilities in child development and physiological psychology, and human experimental psychology. In 1991, our undergraduate students first presented the results of their empirical research at the Great Plains Psychology Students' Conference and a significant aspect of the psychology student's experience at UNK was born. Currently, the majority of our undergraduate students present or publish the results of their research at regional conferences and in refereed journals. In 1999, the department received the University system's Outstanding Department Teaching Award.

In 2014, Dr. Evan Hill renovated the Ken Nikels Physiological Psychology Lab, including building a sound chamber to study animal hearing.