Two psych professors earn national recognition for teaching, service

July 5, 2018 | George Mattingly II

Two psych professors earn national recognition for teaching, service

Applied research in social justice issues in psychology is sometimes viewed as a departure from traditional study in the field. However, Professor of Psychology Kim Case, and Assistant Professor of Psychology Desdamona Rios believe it is critical to human development. Both University of Houston-Clear Lake professors are working to advance this area of study, and their efforts have earned them honors from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Case and Rios were awarded the Robert S. Daniel Teaching Excellence Award and the Jane S. Halonen Teaching Excellence Award, respectively.

“We were both awarded after submitting for the first time,” Case said. “It was a great surprise to us to have two professors from the same university awarded. It feels like we are moving the field forward in the areas we’re studying.”

Both awards recognize outstanding teachers in psychology at the college level and were based on several criteria including effective teaching, fostering student professional development, research and training other teachers across several years of work. Case was recognized for her 15 years of work at the university and national level, while Rios was awarded for her work within the first 10 years of her full-time teaching career.

Both professors focus on different facets of social psychology as it relates to identity and learning in the classroom. Case’s research focuses on ally behavior in response to intersectional identity, or the overlap of several social identities that can result in oppression. Her aim is to teach others how to be intersectional allies in the classroom to create inclusive spaces for all students. Building from these concepts, Rios studies the development of identity among Latino students and LGBTQ men in academic settings.

“There’s all kinds of ‘hidden curricula’ that students have to deal with in the classroom such as their cultural and social identities that impact what and how they learn,” she said. “I examine narrative identity, which involves how we tell our life story at the conscious level, and also the stories we unconsciously internalize about ourselves. Sometimes these two stories can be incongruent.”

For both professors, recognition of their work is important not only for them, but for advancing the field of psychology in directly addressing social issues to improve the community. Case is working on a new book about teaching social justice in the classroom while Rios is spending much her time collecting data for assessment of education practices at a Houston high school and researching the impact of an after school program in the Fifth Ward on cultivating positive African-American identity.

“Traditional psychology is more about research for the sake of research, but the real reward is being able to apply it to the real world and to know that it’s useful for students and for our field,” Case said.

Case and Rios will head to Phoenix in October for the STP 17th Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT) to receive their awards, where they will also give a presentation of their work. To learn more about the psychology program at UHCL, visit