How a psychology professor became a student favorite

by Eric Gorton

Taking On Tomorrow: Episode 5 - Revitalizing Lecture Halls

See how Lecturer of Psychology Kimberly DuVall is invigorating general education lecture halls in this installment of Taking On Tomorrow. Read more:

Posted by James Madison University on Friday, December 11, 2015

Kimberly D.R. DuVall, lecturer of psychology at JMU and better known as "Professor D," received the ranking of top-rated professor in the nation on the popular website Over 220 student ratings have left her with an overall quality of 5.0, the highest score possible on the website.

In addition, she has previously been named to Princeton's Review's The Best 300 Professors.

Q: You used to work at U.Va. as a researcher and practitioner of cognitive therapy. How did you get involved in teaching?

A: When I was working at U.Va., I was asked by JMU if I would teach a class or two as adjunct faculty for the department of psychology. I said, "yes" and the rest is history. Each semester that I taught a class, I fell more and more in love with teaching, which truly surprised me as I am introverted and tend to be a bit on the shy side.

Q: What teaching techniques do you use that make you a student favorite?

A: I use an extensive amount of anecdotal evidence in my classes by means of a storytelling pedagogy. I do a lot of storytelling. So when I'm presenting a difficult concept or topic, I make sure I share something from "real life" that makes it applicable to my students. For my non-psychology majors who say, "Oh, this is just another GenEd course," I love at the end of the course when they say, "This is the greatest course, I didn't know I could get this from a GenEd." For many students, this will be the only introduction they will have to the field of psychology. It is important to me that they have a strong introduction to this interesting field of study. Humans are fascinating.

Q: What's your favorite class to teach and why?

A: All of my classes are so different; it's hard to choose a favorite. My PSYC 160 Lifespan Human Development class is so much larger than all the rest, so I have a different relationship with the class. I like the energy I receive from my large lecture halls. My small upper-level classes are much more intimate. I appreciate and enjoy the fact that I get to know these students on a deeper level. Teaching is the best part of my job and definitely the highlight of my day.

Q: What is your current research?

A: My current research focuses on the efficacy of peer advising at the University level. I am currently the Director of the Psychology Peer Advising Practicum program at JMU. This program requires a two-year commitment from the students (junior and senior psychology majors). They take classes with me each semester in additon to staffing an advising office in the department. They are an amazing group of students who are experiencing a para-professional experience before graduation. They learn many transferrable skills such as leadership, teamwork, serving their department with excellence and a positive attitude.

Q: How do students become involved with the peer advising program?

A: Psychology majors can apply to the Psychology Peer Advising program during the second semester of their sophomore year. In addition, I have many students who do independent studies with me. Most are related to the PPA program, though I do take a few students each semester to work with me as teaching assistants for my large lecture class. These students assist with grading, test proctoring, review sessions and student meetings. They help me to make the experience better for all of my students.

Q: What was your reaction to being named the top-rated professor in the nation?

A: I was pleasantly surprised. It was my first year as a full-time faculty member at JMU.  When the Washington Post contacted me, I was floored. All I could think was how grateful I was to be teaching at JMU. My gratitude for my students increases each semester. I learn so much from them!

Q: How does it feel to have been in Princeton Review's The Best 300 Professors?

A: I was in total shock and surprise. I am honored. This type of attention allows me to reflect on my impact here at JMU. This kind of acknowledgement makes me work even harder.

Q: So you like to sing and dance. When did you start doing that?

A: I have been singing and dancing since high school (I sang with Tori Amos way back then). I try to sing with groups whenever possible (Shenandoah Valley Choral Society, EMU Bach Festival, etc.) and get into the dance studio from time to time.  I do this, as well as pottery and painting, so that I will have a better work/life balance. I tend to work too much because I love what I do. So I use these hobbies as way to stop working and have a different kind of fun. I am always telling my students to take time to relax, so it's important that I model this behavior in my own life.

Q: Do you integrate your personal interests into the classroom?

A: Oh, yes! In psychology, I am fortunate to be able to teach about what it means to be human. In my large lecture classes, I teach "womb to tomb" information. It makes sense to bring in information about my own life experiences from time to time as examples for concepts that I am presenting.

Q: Why is JMU a good place to do what you do?

A: I am grateful for being able to teach at a university whose vision statement values "Engaged Learning." I try to engage my students, in my large and small classes, each time that I interact with them. Also, I am a triple duke. I earned my bachelor's and master's degrees at JMU and am now an alumni faculty member. This is a great place to be for those of us who truly bleed purple!

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A: I was so honored to receive the All Together One Award in 2013, as I was nominated by my students. They completely surprised me.  (and I have my name on a brick on the Commons!)

I also feel fortunate to have been able to present internationally on the newly-designed Psychology Peer Advising Practicum Program. In my five-year plan, this was a top priority—to present at conferences on this unique program—and it was achieved in just two years thanks to opportunities presented by university advising and psychology. I had never traveled outside of the United States until presenting at the University College Maastricht in The Netherlands.

My meandering path: I have not had the usual path to academia. I have had positions in purchasing, human resources, cognitive therapy, rehabilitation and even had the opportunity to study the brains of death-row inmates while they were still alive. I am thankful for all of these experiences, as they help me to bring my lectures to life in the classroom.

About this series:

Taking on Tomorrow was created to showcase the expertise, scholarship and research of faculty in all disciplines at Madison. A number of factors determine who will be in the spotlight at any given time and what aspect of their work will be highlighted. In this installment, we feature Kimberly D.R. DuVall, lecturer of psychology.

To nominate a faculty member to be featured in "Taking on Tomorrow," please e-mail Eric Gorton at Please provide a brief explanation of why you are nominating this faculty member. Self nominations are encouraged.

head shot of Kimberly Duvall during the interview

Related Content:

Washington Post — Web rankings put JMU lecturer Kimberly DuVall-Early at head of national class

The entire Taking on Tomorrow series can be viewed on the Madison Scholar website.

Published: Friday, December 11, 2015

Last Updated: Monday, March 21, 2016

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