Not too long ago psychology professor Susan Croll of Queens College had one of her freshman students come up to her desk after class.
He was crying.
When she asked what was wrong he said her lecture and classroom environment had just made him realize how cool college really is.
Croll has been teaching psychology for over 10 years, and is now being honored for her teaching methods not only by her students, but also by being named as one of the top professors in the nation by the Princeton Review in its debut book, “Best 300 Professors.”
According to Queens College, this exclusive group constitutes less than .02 percent of the roughly 1.8 million post-secondary teachers across the United States.
The Princeton Review teamed-up with ratemyprofessor.com to create the book. Croll’s page on the website is glittered with positive remarks from former students.
One student remarked, “Scientists need to perfect the art of cloning. This way they can clone Professor Croll so she can teach every class at every learning institution on earth. If this happens the world will be a better place.”
Croll taught at Queens College for three years as a graduate student to complete her dissertation before joining the full-time faculty in 2001.
The professor said that she believes she received this honor because her focus is on teaching students how to think for themselves.
“I strive to give them intellectual ‘ah-ha’ moments,” Croll said. “I design my lectures in a cover sort of way to put the complicated subject matter together.”
She added that she can be tough when she catches cheaters, but overall teaches with an unconditional positive regard to all her students.
Croll also mentioned that she loves Queens College in particular because the students there have a “fire in their bellies.”
“Many of my students are first-generation college students in their family,” Croll said. “It makes me very excited as a teacher to be there. They want to do well, they want to learn. A lot of my students wait tables at night just to have the privilege of being in school.”
She teaches psychology statistics, experimental psychology, current issues in science and psychopharmacology to graduate students.
Croll said that she runs her classes with a mixed-media philosophy. She teaches through lecture, analyzation of novels, watching relevant films — and never uses PowerPoint.
“Most of all I insist on open discussions,” she said. “Students learn quick in my class that I do not move on until we have a group dialogue going. I’ll let them stare at me until the sun goes down, but they have to talk.”
Croll said this method is successful since it encourages an active and vigorous environment.
She is now on academic leave to run a neurology research program with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biotechnology school in Tarrytown, and believes the work will enhance her background and experience in the industry, which will serve her psychopharmacology students well when she returns to the college.
“I’m really happy to give them my time,” Croll said of Regeneron. “There needs to be more of a public-private partnership between fields of psychology to benefit results as a whole.”
Croll is focusing on nerve-growth factors at the firm, including testing pharmaceuticals with natural proteins that are manipulated to inhibit or augment brain diseases involving chronic pain ailments, and specifically epilepsy.
Croll explained that these two conditions may seem very different, but biologically have a great deal in common.
“Too much excitability of nerve-growth can aggressively affect the brain,” Croll said. “I always like to have one leg in biotechnology research to utilize cutting-edge techniques that will benefit patients with brain diseases.”
Croll noted that outside research keeps her current, so she can go back to Queens College and make her students aware of developments that will someday affect their careers.
The professor said that she relates to her students on a personal level because she completed her own dissertation at Queens College and can understand the pressure they feel in learning the in-depth subject matter.
Croll told the American Psychological Society that as she was attending the college she lost a young friend to post-ischemic brain damage, which is a type of stroke that can be caused by an accident.
He was in a stagnant vegetative state for many years before his death.
From that, her interest in how science could save the brains of tragically afflicted people grew.
Before Croll’s father retired as a psychology professor, she sat in on his classes, and began to seek more clinical experiences.
“I always knew I wanted to be a professor because of my father,” Croll said. “I just wanted to carve out my own path as a behavioral neuroscientist. Although, if it wasn’t for him and many of my colleagues who used to be my teachers, I wouldn’t be half the teacher I am.”
Croll said her greatest accomplishment to date is when she looks into one of her student’s eyes and sees a lightbulb go on.
“I get to see my students discover the power of the mind,” Croll said. “Because of that I can’t imagine my life without teaching.”
In the future Croll would like to delve even deeper into the curriculum she teaches by creating a more challenging curriculum model.
She also would like to write a book about how to be a successful professor.
“I am honored and humbled to be chosen,” Croll said. “I have to credit my colleagues and mentors because it is a tough profession and for them I am forever grateful.”