Making Gumbo

Mon, 14 Sep 2009

Academic History

Rupert W. Nacoste, Ph.D.I am Rupert W. Nacoste, Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University (NCSU) where I have been on the faculty since 1988. After graduate school at UNC, I spent two years at the University of Michigan in the Institute for Social Research, working in James Jackson’s Program for Research on Black Americans. In those two years, I learned a great deal about managing and analyzing large sample surveys. Eventually, I took my first assistant professor position at Auburn University. I was there for two years, 1986-1988, and then moved on to where I am now, North Carolina State University.

From September, 2000 through August, 2002, I served as North Carolina State University’s first Vice Provost for Diversity and African American Affairs. The story of my time as Vice Provost is told in my memoir, “Making Gumbo in the University.” Six years after coming to North Carolina State University I was named to the Academy of Outstanding Teachers (1994). Then in 1999 I was named Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology.

Like being named to the Academy of Outstanding Teachers, the Alumni Distinguished award is also for excellence in teaching in the college classroom. Over the years, my teaching has been recognized in a lot of ways. For me, one of the most surprising was when I was put on the cover of the College of Education and Psychology’s recruitment brochure.

My being on the cover happened because one day I taught outside. When I was first teaching social psychology at NCSU, I did so to classes of about forty students. Early in the Spring of one semester, a bright, sunny, warm day and my students asked if we could have class outside. Realizing that on this day I didn’t need to write on the board, I said “…sure, why not.” So outside we went and I taught. What I didn’t realize was that the students picked a spot from which the Dean of the college could see and hear us from her office. Apparently, Dean Joan Michael watched, listened and was impressed. Later in the life of the college, there was talk of a brochure and the dean indicated a desire to have a picture of an interaction between a professor and students; a picture that would look “…alive.” When Assistant Dean for Student Services, Ms. Anona Smith, suggested that I be the professor, the Dean agreed, mentioning how she had once observed my animated teaching style. So, that’s how I came to be on the cover of the brochure for the College of Education and Psychology. As I tell new assistant professors, the moral of the story is “…careful how you teach; there is always somebody important watching.”

Of course, as a university professor at a research university, I do research. I have published papers and book chapters on the social psychology of affirmative action. Some have found that work important enough that I have been asked by various organizations to consult on matters related to the management of diversity. That is how it came to pass that for three summers I was a Visiting Senior Scholar at the (Department of) Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (Patrick Air Force Base, FL). There I conducted research on and made research based recommendations about equal opportunity leadership issues in the armed forces.

My undergraduate teaching includes my newer “Interpersonal Relationships and Race” course. Based on that course, I have written a book “Living on the New Racial Frontier.” Aside from “Introduction to Psychology,” the other undergraduate course that I teach is “Introduction to Social Psychology,” which I teach as a course on interpersonal relationships. Based on that course, I have just finished a book “Strange and Defiant Lovers: Inside a Course on Interpersonal Relationships.”

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