Psychology department takes on new professor

Dedicated and driven: Valerie Peckham is not only a recently hired professor of psychology, but also a driven and competitive tennis player. Peckham has been to the tennis U.S. nationals twice. 

Leah Jamison

Valerie Peckham is a newly hired professor of psychology at Washburn University, but she has been involved with Washburn long before becoming a professor here. However, Peckham hasn’t always pursued her passion in psychology.

“I’ve had several different jobs and I’ve pursued different careers and would find myself getting bored a year or two into a job,” said Peckham. “I had always been interested in psychology, and then it occurred to me: how could you ever get bored studying people?”

Peckham has a prior degree in middle secondary English education from the University of Kansas. She never taught in public school, but she had a career in business and customer service for several years.

“I was working with some clients and it occurred to me that what I was doing with these clients was counseling them,” said Peckham. “I was helping them find solutions to their problems. That’s when it clicked that that’s what I would be doing if I was doing psychology. That’s what made me decide to do the overhaul of my career.”

In 2007, she started taking undergraduate classes at Washburn, and graduated with a Masters of Arts in psychology after her bachelor’s degree.

Even before being hired as a full-time faculty member, Peckham served as a guest lecturer several times for the psychology department, as well as on the Master’s Program Advisory Board. She also worked as an adjunct faculty member prior to starting her full-time faculty position.

Cindy Turk, chair of the psychology department, has been at Washburn during Peckham’s journey from student to professor.

“Peckham has always been a terrific student,” said Turk. “She came here with a purpose and got as much as she could out of the experience of her education. She was like that from the very beginning. Since she’s graduated, she’s stayed connected to Washburn and has made contributions. She’s done a lot of giving back to Washburn.”

When Peckham isn’t at Washburn, she is gardening, hiking, playing tennis or caring for her dog and two cats.

“I remember playing with mud pies when I was a little kid, and I still do that, just in a more productive way,” said Peckham.

She has also played tennis competitively and has been to the United States Tennis Nationals twice.

“I think a good word to describe me is driven,” said Peckham. “I keep going and going and going. If there’s something that I want to accomplish or achieve, I pursue it.”

Aside from being familiar with how Washburn’s psychology department functions, Peckham made the choice to be here because she is passionate about psychology and helping her students.

“Washburn is a good teaching institution and it is student minded,” said Peckham.

Peckham is engaging within the classroom and uses a mixture of lecture and interactive questions in her teaching style.

“Most other professors just speak in class, but she writes on the board which is really good,” said Prithvi Kunwar, one of the students in Peckham’s Introduction to Psychology class. “She gives us critical thinking cards to write down what’s on our minds or what we want [to learn about] in the class.”

Time and task management is one of Peckham’s main focuses. She recommends the Pomodoro method to students as a study tool.

The Pomodoro method is a schedule for studying, which is said to maximize learning and keep your brain from tiring out.

“Study or do your task intently for 20 minutes [and then] take a five to seven-minute break and completely come away from your task,” said Peckham. “That allows your brain to fully engage for 20 or so minutes, especially if you move around, it allows memory to start to integrate and build all the neuro-networks. It is more effective than trying to pay attention to something for hours at a time.”

She also recommends completely removing yourself from your electronic device.

“There is research that [shows] even when our phones are sitting beside us, they divide our attention, because we’re watching for them and not fully attending to the task at hand,” said Peckham. “If you really want to study and learn, you need to shut it off and put it in another room. Let your mind be free from it for a while.”

Outside of teaching at Washburn, Peckham also owns her own private practice called Acme Counseling and Consulting Services in Lawrence, Kansas. Her website sums up the practice by focusing on her as a “solution-focused therapist,” according to acmeccs.com.

She has also worked in a women’s prison in the past. In spring 2020, Peckham will be bringing the correctional psychology class back to Washburn.

“That’s one of the exciting things [Valerie’s] adding for us,” said Turk. “Since I’ve been here, there’s been a course on the books called correctional psychology, which hasn’t been offered in over a decade. She’s offering that course in the spring, and she’s a perfect fit for it because she does have that experience working in correctional settings.”

Peckham’s love for learning and psychology translates into the classroom.

“I’m always learning and gathering information and expanding knowledge,” said Peckham. “I get really inspired and enthusiastic about psychology. It’s a lot of fun to share the fascinating world of psychology with people, and I can do that through teaching.”

Peckham currently teaches many of the introduction to psychology classes. She realizes there are a lot of incoming freshman in these classes and one of the goals she has set is to help those young, new students learn how to learn.

“These are young brains, so they’re not fully developed,” said Peckham. “I’m focusing on how I can help these students manage task and time, because that’s one of the biggest challenges people run into when transitioning from the highly structured environment of high school into the more self-structured environment of college.”

Peckham’s love for learning, psychology and her students shows in both the classroom and passing conversations with her. As she continues her newly acquired full-time position in the psychology department at Washburn, she will focus on teaching students practical skills and sharing her passion for psychology.

Edited by Jessica Galvin, Brianna Smith, Adam White