Hearts and Minds
Dr. Cheryl Grills, psychology professor and director of the LMU Psychology Applied Research Center encourages students to contemplate the human condition as a window to understanding the human mind. Originally from Charleston, S.C., Grills aims to bring students to the center of every conversation through community engagement and the lens of personal experience.
Grills, a trained clinical psychologist specializing in substance abuse prevention and treatment, racial stress, and mood disorders, says it’s been the students that have kept her passionate about teaching over the past 34 years at LMU.
“I have a vast spectrum of students in my classes, coming from a range of socio-cultural backgrounds,” Grills said. “Some are first-generation, some come from great wealth and resources… it provides multiple perspectives, and I’m fascinated by the different ways in which students relate (or not) to certain theories in psychology.”
For example, in Grills’ General Psychology class, students work on a term paper in which they develop and present a TED Talk linking a particular theory and its associated research to a personal life experience.
“I’m always struck by how seriously and sincerely they take the project,” Grills said. “All of our students are incredible walking stories, and some are willing to share very painful experiences.”
Grills adds that the project is a good reflection of her teaching pedagogy. She has students explore a theory, dissect it from a range of perspectives, and then subject it to the challenge of real-life experience.
“I want them to ask themselves, ‘Do I accept this as valid?’” said, Grills.
In addition to her slate of courses, including “Introduction to Psychology” and “Community Psychology,” Grills also teaches a Global Immersion course that includes travel to Cuba and another that includes travel to Ghana. These on-campus classes culminate with travel abroad, allowing students to explore further topics touched upon in the classroom through rich international dialogue with students, faculty, and residents of another country. LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts offers a range of globally imaginative immersion course options to destinations worldwide, including Greece, Ireland, China, and more.
“International experiences are very, very important,” Grills said, who also founded the university’s Ghana program, one of the opportunities available through LMU's Study Abroad office. “It’s an opportunity for a new perspective on American society (and psychology) from the perspective of another society.”
Grills received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles and completed her undergraduate training at Yale University with a double-major in psychology and African American studies. Most recently, Grills was a Finalist for the Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award, which is given annually to a senior, tenured faculty member for exemplary leadership in advancing students’ civic learning, supporting community engagement, and contributing to the public good. It is bestowed by Campus Compact, a national network of colleges and universities dedicated to deepening higher education’s role in improving community life and educating students for civic and social responsibility. Additionally, Grills was the recipient of the “Drum Major for Service Award,” given by President Barack Obama, and “Honors for Excellence in Turning Research into Action” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
As for what advice Dr. Grills has for future LMU Lions?
“Explore – act like you’re at a buffet and sample everything, see what entices your curiosity,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity at LMU. Make sure to seize the moment and make your mistakes teachable moments.”