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Social Skills

Dedication wins social psychologist top T.A. award

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
February 2005

In his second year as a graduate student in social psychology at the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, Mathew Curtis was a teaching assistant for his advisor, Shelley Duval. In the middle of the course, Professor Duval passed away. Curtis was left advisorless and in change of running the class of 150 students with a fellow graduate student.

It was the first time Curtis had taught a lecture course.

“Shelley’s death was probably of much more consequence to Mathew than it was to the undergraduates in the class,” says Brian Lickel, assistant professor of psychology and Curtis’ current advisor. “However, Mathew provided a great deal of structure and support to the students when I know that he was struggling with the loss himself. His behavior in this case fits a pattern of stability, compassion, and good humor that I have always seen from Mathew as we have worked together.”

Which is just part of the reason for the university honoring him the 2004 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. Curtis says that as a teacher, he wants to help students understand things they wouldn’t otherwise. When asked what he wants to leave with his students, he answers immediately: self-confidence and a belief in their own intelligence.

Curtis was born and raised in England, and went to the University of Kent at Canterbury, where he received his B.Sc. in Applied Psychology. In 2000, he came to USC as a graduate student in social psychology and is currently pursuing his doctorate.

He says his interest in social psychology stems from “looking at the world around me and being interested in what people do.” His current research interests: the vicarious experience of shame and guilt; the effects of stereotypes on language use; and perceptions of personality.

Curtis has been a teaching assistant at USC College for five years, teaching statistics, research methods, intro psych, intro social psych and drugs and personality.

“Mathew has always been a helpful and involved teaching assistant,” says Kimberly Cobo, a senior majoring in psychology, who has taken his research methods and social psychology classes. “He utilizes various methods of teaching in order to make learning in the lab setting more interactive and fun. He definitely deserves this award for all of his efforts and dedication.”