Dr. Laura Stull is an associate professor of psychology at AU. She received her M.S. and doctorate degrees from IUPUI and has been teaching at AU since 2012. She and her husband Stephen have a son, Simon, and a daughter, Elaine.
Q: You’re no stranger to this campus, right? Are you an AU grad?
A: I am. I got my undergraduate degree here in psychology and I had minors in math and statistics. After, I went into the doctoral program at IUPUI in clinical psychology, and I got my masters and doctorate there.
Q: What led you to Anderson?
A: I wanted to run cross country and track, and I wanted to be challenged academically. I liked that I could do both of those things and be in a Christian environment all at the same time. Neither of my sisters went to school here, so that was appealing too. I am from northern Indiana, but I knew some people from my high school that had come here.
Q: Why psychology? Did you come to school knowing that’s what you wanted to study?
A: No, I actually didn’t know. I came in thinking that might be a possibility though. So I took general psychology to see what I thought, and I loved it. Everything in it was just so fascinating, so I just decided to take another psych class, and I just kept taking them. I think I took almost all the psych classes that were offered. Then I knew, this was right. I loved it.
Q: Did you ever expect to be a professor?
A: I didn’t expect to be a professor. I thought I wanted to be a researcher and a counselor. I felt a specific calling to help people serve people with severe mental illness. Through some experiences, internships and courses I took here, I felt a specific calling to that area.
I narrowed down grad programs that would let me specialize in that, thinking I would do research in the area and counseling. That’s what IUPUI did, and I did lots of research and training there. I had a clinical internship and fellowship, where I specialized working with people with psychosis. It was at that time that I became aware that a position was opening here. I felt prompting to apply for it and see what would happen.
I didn’t think that’s really where I was being called. Throughout everything, God was saying, ‘Yes, this is where I want to use you.’ And I love it. I am so thankful this is where I am called, but it is definitely not what I anticipated.
Q: What courses do you teach here?
A: I teach a lot of the research courses and advanced research and stats. I teach interpersonal relationships, so I still get to use the skills I developed in grad school. I am absolutely using those in the courses that I am teaching. I teach about counseling, having healthy relationships and about research.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your own personal research.
A: I am still actively doing research and I have students who have helped me with different projects. I had a paper that was just published, just came out within the last few weeks, and that project was part of my dissertation. A student helped me analyze some data from that, so she was the second author. It’s published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry. This was a special issue that was published that just focused on stigma.
Q: What did that research involve?
A: Well, that project I started when I was in grad school, and I have published another paper from my dissertation. This was other data I had collected as a part of that. Students came to me and wanted to do more research and do an independent study. That prompted me to get the publication together.
I am working right now on another project. I got a faculty development grant to help with that, and that project is focused on attitudes of clergy in training, regarding mental health.
I interviewed seminary students here about how prepared they feel to help people who come to them with mental illness.
That project started probably like two years ago and the students helped me develop the interview protocol and code and analyze data.
I will be working on some publications from it. My hope is that this is the first phase of what I hope to be a whole program of research.
Q: How did you pick this topic? Why that?
A: I have felt really passionate about stigma because of my personal experience working with people with mental illness and my faith beliefs. People with mental illness tend to fall in the category of who Jesus would call us to, whom society would typically call the least of these. They tend to be more likely to be homeless and end up in jail, they tend to be more outcasts.
That prompted me to do more research initially, and then I discovered through that experience and talking with people with mental illness, a lot of them are more likely to go to a pastor before they would go to a mental health professional when they are first experiencing symptoms, so their reaction matters. There is not a lot of research on that.
Part of my interest is because it is consistent with my faith beliefs and what I have studied. I hope to ultimately offer training of some sorts so that clergy would feel more prepared.
Q: On the topic of research, AU does a great job providing experience with senior research projects. Can you talk a little about those?
A: I love them! I think research is fun, and I think it is most fun when you are studying the things that you care about. I love supervising senior research projects because I think one of the benefits of AU is that you aren’t forced in my research program and there is such great opportunity to do your own research.
I teach the capstone research course and the honors senior seminar course, and I love seeing students pursue things they are passionate about and feel called to do something about. That changes the whole research process. It’s still hard, but it’s great to have that motivation of doing something you’re interested in.
Students create that entire process. They generate ideas and then have a finished project. From start to finish, it’s theirs, and they do it in a year, which is amazing. I have a record number in the class this year and it’s so exciting to me because it’s not required. I think it’s so fun!
Q: Do you think these projects change the way students think and look at the community?
A: Absolutely. I think it can change how you view certain issues and how and why people do what they do. There is something about doing research yourself to help it make sense. The work that they do is so impressive. They are excelling. It is so rewarding.