Asking ‘Why?’

Teaching, Research Draws PSYCHOLOGY PROFESSOR from MEDICAL School dream  

by Courtney Hoffman

News Editor 

Originally published Nov. 1, 2018

With eight new faculty members hired in 2018 alone, it’s been an adjustment getting used to all the new faces on the Hill. Fortunately, Mount Mercy seems to be in good hands with passionate, inspired and extremely personable hires like Dr. Jaclynn Sullivan, assistant professor of psychology.

With initial dreams to become a cardiologist, Sullivan found her true path in a single class. Though unrelated to her major, she was drawn to psychology and left her pre-med dreams behind.

“I started taking research classes in psychology and realized that I could ask ‘why’ questions all the time— why things are the way that they are—and I could get answers to those things,” she said.

“Once I took cognitive psychology in my sophomore year, I was like “this is it. I can ask things and answer them in one discipline, and it’s fun.”

Sullivan is a cognitive psychologist,so she usually studies things that are either memory, attention or performance-related, she explained. She specializes in embodied cognition, which focuses on how your mind and body work together. Her own specific research is about students and how to make learning environments better for your memory.

“I research how memory and student performance are affected by both your body and mind in the class room and my body and mind in the classroom—like what am I modeling to you,” she said.

She also studies the differences between online and in-person learning.

Sullivan was guided to education around the time she committed to switching her major. After thinking about it for a while, Sullivan asked her professors what she could do with a psych degree and was unimpressed with the common answer- therapy.

“The things that excited me the most were getting to interact with other people,” Sullivan said. “I was always a tutor or the TA for a class. Those things were really exciting to me and the research was really exciting to me. Talking to people about their personal problems was not exciting to me.”

She chose to teach at the college level because she gets to work with intelligent people, do her own research and can still teach others about the things she’s interested in. College students, she said, are past the point of needing someone to hold their hands and have bigger, deeper questions that she can help to answer.

She also enjoys teaching smaller classes because she can get to personally know students—that’s part of what drew her to Mount Mercy in the first place.

Sullivan had an interview at Mount Mercy in November of last year after spending Thanksgiving with her family in Chicago.

“I drove here from my parents’house, pulled into town, and there was just something about it,”she said. “Like, Cedar Rapids—I know people make fun of Cedar Rapids, but it felt really homey to me immediately. And then the next day I interviewed and immediately—all of the faculty I met with,the students I met with were all so, so nice, and genuinely interested in me and what I was doing. So, that’s how I ended up here.”

But her work obviously isn’t her whole life. When she’s not busy teaching or working on her research, she leads a pretty active lifestyle. Sullivan goes to the gym every day, likes to snow ski in the winter and loves hiking more than anything else in the world.

And though she’s adamant that she cooks only out of necessity, she loves to bake and does infrequently. “I love being active, baking things, and then being active because I baked things and ate them all. Those are my favorites.”

She of course balances this out with much more relaxed activities, including watching a lot of TV when she can. “It keeps me current with you guys,” she said, laughing. “I have to be able to talk with you about some stuff, you know?”



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