Makhinur Mamatova has been a professor of Psychology at AUCA since 1998, when she joined as a part-time faculty while completing her Ph.D. In that time AUCA (then AUK) has done a lot of growing up, made some mistakes, and had some victories. Makhinur thinks that all of this is normal for a “teenage” university testing the waters. Makhinur has also done a lot of growing at AUCA, spending almost all of her professional career here. I sat down with the counseling psychologist in February, 2013, to talk about the challenges of being a professor.
-You first came to AUCA in 1998. What was your initial impression then as a part-time faculty?
I was only brought on to teach one course at the time, Intro to Psychology, and my first group was actually students in the Law program. What I was really amazed by, coming from Slavonic University where I was finishing my Ph.D work, was that everyone was speaking in English. It was everywhere. The other thing I noticed was how close the students were to each other. It was a much tighter community of students back then, and the spirit they carried around with them was infectious. In fact, I am still friends with some of those Law students that were in my class that first year.
-So what do you think, then, is the biggest difference between those 1998 students and today’s AUCA students?
Well I think that the university has grown, and that is really the biggest difference. In 1998 the university was just getting started, the classes were small, and it was possible to know everyone. Today that is not the case, so it means that the students have to make choices about who they spend their time with, and what projects they work on. I think that the university still maintains its elite status, and that is largely due to the fact that great students continue to come to AUCA, grow, graduate, and become successful.
-One of the biggest differences on the surface is our relationship with Bard, but you have been deeply involved with that project. What can you say about how that relationship has made an impact at AUCA?
I was one of the faculty that helped develop First Year Seminar (FYS) for implementation at AUCA. Together with Bard faculty, including Peg Peoples, we created a truly different experience for both students and faculty. For students, the biggest difference between FYS and their other courses is that FYS is theme-based, not discipline-based. This means that students of Economics are mixed together with students of Software Engineering, and together they tackle really complex themes, such as the symbolism of the Grand Inquisitor, from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
This material is hard for adults, let alone freshmen entering their first semester and learning in their second language. Furthermore, these students are mostly used to being lectured at, and FYS is really based around seminars and class discussion. At the beginning most students are really lost. It is not that they do not understand, but it is just confusing stuff. What is great for us as professors is when they finally start to get going, when they can examine the hidden messages in the language of the Grand Inquisitor. The students start to see what previously was invisible to them.
-And what about what you as a professor get out of it?
Absolutely. The best part about FYS is that we get to co-teach it. It is not even co-teaching as much as it is collaborative teaching. I work with Lance Tillman in FYS. I work on the reading component and he works on the writing component. It is great to have him there because we can provide feedback and see each other from a third side, not just as a student or a professor. When I first started FYS I thought it was challenging and complex, and I was wondering how it would be possible to teach the material to the students. The support you get from the faculty, and especially your collaborative partner here is really the key. It has allowed me to grow as a professor, and inspired me to try new and different techniques in the classroom.
-You are also a professor of Psychology, and were the chair of the department from 2002-2008. What can you tell us about the Psychology department and what our students are working on?
Being a psychologist is really about helping people. My specialty is in Clinical Psychology. I defended my dissertation at St. Petersburg State University in 1999, and since then have been doing research, teaching, and also practicing as a counseling psychologist. The courses I teach in the Psychology department are related to counseling: Psychology of Personality, Abnormal Psychology and Intro to Counseling, and Methods of Group Psychotherapy. P. The goal is to introduce students to ways in which behavior can be modified and adapted to help people through their lives.
Central Asia in general is home to more traditional and ritualistic cultures, and it is not really accepted, as in Europe or the United States, that people sometimes need to seek help outside of their immediate family. However, we are starting to see this change in the sense that I notice more and more people seeking professional counseling, and our students are a part of that change.
Many of them now have their own practices. One, NastyaSlastnikova, has a practice that focuses on children and parents. Another, Roman Yumatov, is now in Great Britain studying psychoanalysis and wants to open a practice here when he finishes. I think that many of the students who come to us also want to put their skills into practice, and, at the end of the day, psychology is an applied field. Our students have a long history of going on to graduate school and getting professional degrees so that they can practice in different fields of Psychology and Social Sciences.
-Makhinur, thank you for your time, and if we have any problems, we will let you know.
Thank you. My door is always open, but we also have a full-time counselor available to all students, faculty, and staff who need help.