On the day of our interview, Dr. Stephanie Afful apologized for the heat in her office. It was 90 degrees outside, and she only just turned on her air conditioner. Regardless, she looked fresh, calm and collected, and as she launched into a description of her first foray into psychology at the ripe old age of 18, it was obvious that she was tailor-made for her job.
Afful, 30, an assistant professor of psychology, is the recipient of the 2011 Joan Goostree Stevens Award for Excellence in Teaching, Fontbonne’s highest faculty honor.
“I was completely humbled and very surprised, very taken aback,” she confessed. “That students and faculty would recognize me like this, it is a huge honor. It makes me realize that my students are recognizing my efforts to make class interesting; they’re not taking things for granted.”
Afful teaches a little bit of everything in her field, including introduction to psychology, research methods, statistics and social psychology, her expertise. Her students are at the age she herself was when she discovered her calling.
“During undergrad at Drury University, I was the only one who showed up out of 15 students for class one day,” Afful remembered. “I thought the professor would cancel, but he taught the full class to just me. The next class period, he had me teach that material to the rest of the class. It was a light bulb moment; this could be a good profession for me.”
And she also realized that for her, a small school environment offered the best fit. It felt more like a home, she said. Which made Fontbonne ideal.
“I’m very inspired by the story of the six Sisters of St. Joseph who emigrated from France to St. Louis,” she said. “Fontbonne’s mission and the goals of the sisters make us unique. I don’t know any other schools with a service day built in.”
Afful has been teaching for six years, the past three at Fontbonne. She has found that the field of psychology offers something to pique the interest of all of her students and that, year after year, students remain engaged.
“I think it’s important to keep things fresh,” Afful said. “I relate topics to what is happening on campus. We run stats on our own data. I think this helps students connect.”
And those students show their gratitude — perhaps not often, but enough. On more difficult days, Afful said, pointing to a wall in her office, she rereads thank you cards, emails and notes from grateful students that she keeps tacked up within view.
“As a teacher, it’s essential to feel like you’re appreciated,” she explained. “It keeps you motivated and helps you stay fresh.”
Learn more about Dr. Stephanie Afful.
Learn more about studying psychology at Fontbonne.