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Happy and Smart Students (And Faculty!): Dr. Ashley Borders


Dr. Ashley Borders, associate professor of Psychology, participant in the Healthy Campus Program Counsel,co-coordinator of TCNJ's monthly wellness challenge, "Breathe In, Breathe Out"

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“Can you tell me about how you became a professor and why you’re teaching Psychology?”

In college I was trying to decide between psychology and history. I’m interested in understanding why people do what they do, and psychology and history both get at that. I think I’m better at psychology and I knew that I wanted the option to see patients and do therapy.

For much of graduate school I thought I might go on and do that, but I love teaching too much. And I realized that seeing patients full-time didn’t work for me. I found it too heavy.”

“What do you like about teaching so much?”

I find it very enlivening. I love planning because I think it’s like doing a puzzle. But then In the classroom you’re so in the moment and it’s so energizing – it’s lots of different skills that are being used at different times.

“Is there anyone or anything that you model your teaching after?”

For awhile I modeled my teaching after my graduate adviser (at University of Southern California). He’s won more teaching awards than anyone I know. He was also an amateur stand-up comic.

I’m not a comic, so I’ve decided that can’t be my approach. But, he said something to me in graduate school: ‘You need to be willing to have relationships with your students.'”

Dr. Borders explains that building a connection that is genuine and supportive to students’ growth helps them learn.

“If you do that, they’ll end up enjoying it and they’ll do more for you.”

“Do you have a possibilities model? It’s like a role model, but instead of emulating all of who this person is, you see possibilities in them of what you want to be and how you want to be.”

“Right now I feel like some of my colleagues are actually. In particular, the chair of Psychology, Dr. Vivona. What I’m not able to do right now that I’d eventually like to do is have a small practice and see patients. Somehow she manages to do that and (teach) so well and raise a child – and that is amazing to me.

Someday that is what I want to be doing. Just what I’m doing now, but also a little bit of clinical work.”

“Have you had any other possibilities models in your life that have inspired you to do the work you’re doing now?”

“My graduate adviser helped me a lot. I think the other thing that let me end up here was not getting burnt out in graduate school. And always having a balance and knowing I can’t give my life over to work, and he modeled that and talked about that.

I didn’t burn out and I kept enjoying what I was doing.”

“Is there anything you have read that has also inspired any attitudes you have had?”

“When I was in graduate school, I discovered Buddhism and mindfulness and meditation. I think that changed my worldview than anything else ever has. I think it gives me patience, especially in stressful times during the semester.”

“How did you discover Buddhism?”

“Actually through a children’s book by Ursula Le Guin. (Eastern philosophy) was clearly infused in the book and so it was through that.”

“Can you tell me about the “Breathe In, Breathe Out” challenge?”

“We were asked to design a month-long wellness challenge and we decided on mindfulness. We wanted to develop a program that exposed people to meditation or yoga who hadn’t been exposed before.

I know that if you make some kind of small, public commitment, you’re more likely to follow through. So we wanted to encourage people to make a commitment and offer lots of opportunities.”

Those included silent time for meditation, free yoga classes, and resources about deals on local yoga studios. This was a first for TCNJ and it proved a radical formula for health for the entire campus body – a gentle, but meaningful step in a mindful direction.

“From the leaders I talked to, there were a lot of people coming to the sessions that had never done [yoga or meditation] before. That is the most exciting thing to me. To get people trying some new activity was what I really cared about.”

“What is beautiful about today?”

All the spring flowers.

— Story and Interview by Jack Meyers

— Photography by Jaryd Frankel