October 28, 2020

Hodges Retires and Psych Department Gains Norton

By Josh “James” Litman - Staff Reporter

The fall semester at Gordon College has included some hellos, as well as some goodbyes. In the psychology department, Dan Norton began his first semester teaching at Gordon, while Bert Hodges is finishing his last semester since he started in 1972.

Norton graduated from Gordon College in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Afterwards attended Boston University, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in psychology in 2014.

Fourteen years after he graduated from Gordon College, Norton has returned to teach what he has learned. He chose to come back to Gordon, because he wanted to work in a liberal arts college that wasn’t competitive. Norton said it can get really crazy working in that world, and hard to find a good balance between work and personal life.

“I wanted to work at a liberal arts college that was a little bit less cutthroat than if you worked at what’s called an R1 institution, like Harvard or Northeastern, where you have to bring in grant money,” Norton said.

He has previously worked at the liberal arts Williams College as a visiting professor. Although he was only there for two years, he enjoyed his time there as he taught, researched, and mentored students. He began his search for a similar college where he could continue teaching and research.

“So, I wanted to find another place like that, and lo and behold, my alma mater, Gordon, opened up a job, and I was like, ‘Well, let’s jump on that’,” Norton said.

Norton noted that Gordon College has changed a bit since he was enrolled there, but the Psychology department had stayed the same. He recalls that Kaye Cook, Bryan Auday, and Hodges were all members of the department back when he was getting his psychology degree.

“They were part of the reason I was able to get into grad school. I got research experience with them when I was a student, and that’s what attracted me to get my first job after college, and that job got me into grad school,” Norton said.

Norton says he has been kept busy his first semester. He is currently teaching three classes: Person in Psychological Context, Clinical Psych: Psychopathology, and Internship I.

“Psychopathology I’ve taught a few times, so that’s my layup. [Person in Psychological Context] is definitely new, I’ve never taught that before, so that’s probably my biggest challenge. It’s a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of work,” Norton said.

One aspect of his class that most of his students enjoy is when he brings Hugo, his French bulldog, in to visit. Hugo wanders around the classroom and sits on students laps as Norton teaches psychology.

Phoebe Guice ‘22, a kinesiology major in Norton’s psychopathology class said, “He brings his dog Hugo into class and lets him walk around during lectures. It makes all the students very happy and de-stresses the classroom!”

Norton is very passionate about psychology and likes all the different aspects of it. He enjoys asking empirical questions about the mind, testing it, seeing the data, and understanding more about how the brain works. 

“Whether its social psychology, or how we learn, how we use language, I love all that stuff, especially when you can test your theory,” Norton said.

As a clinical psychologist, Norton is not only able to teach and see patients for therapy, but he can also do his own research. His research focuses on using the visual system as a model to see how the brain works with mental illness. He exploits what we already know about how the visual system works and learns how it is altered in the case of mental illness. 

“Your eyes are kind of like a camera, they can take a picture, they have little cells that fire for different colors and light and dark. They’re like a camera in the sense that they have no idea what they’re looking at. If you ask your camera what it’s looking at, it doesn’t know,” Norton said.

Of the four lobes in the brain, three of them work to understand what we see with our eyes. Norton looks at the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes to see how they are altered in patients with mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia.

For students interested in being a clinical psychologist, Norton says to go for it. “I would say it’s a pretty good gig, I really enjoy it. I love seeing patients for therapy, getting to know people’s struggles and help them. It’s really rewarding,” he said.

Kaye Cook of the psychology department recalled teaching Norton as a student. They worked together on a study about Khmer Buddhists and Christian qualitative descriptions of their moral landscapes.

“[Norton] mainly carried out analysis using multivariate as well as multidimensional scaling, which is unusual for an undergraduate. He’s very focused and able, and kept asking for more work to do,” Cook said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bert Hodges has been working at Gordon College for 48 years, and is ready to retire. Hodges focuses on social, cognitive, cultural, and philosophical psychology. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Ph.D. in 1972. At first, Hodges wasn’t sure if Gordon would be right for him.

Hodges wanted to focus on research, but was unsure if he would be able to do that in a smaller college. He stayed because he believed in Christian liberal arts education and enjoyed living close to the Boston area.

“I’ve had a very funny career, I taught for a long time without publishing very much, but I was working and learning and doing things I probably wouldn’t have had time for if I had been at a university,” Hodges said.

One of Hodges favorite memories of working at Gordon was back when the social science division all worked together in one small building. He said they were like a close family that really cared for each other.

Cook says that Hodges will not really be gone from Gordon. “We are hoping he will continue to be involved because of his priority to the department. He cares deeply about everything and everyone, which can be exhausting, but it’s a gift.”

Hodges will continue to work as faculty at the University of Connecticut after his retirement at Gordon College. He believes that he will now have more time to work on his research.

“The main reason I’m retiring is I wanted more time to write and do research before I lose it all together. I’m not planning on turning into a couch potato,” Hodges said.  

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