Celebrating milestones

Faculty from the Department of Psychology in 1963. Front row: Dr. Verrill, Dr. Hunsicker, Dr. Smith, Dr. Lowder. Back row: Dr. Etaugh, Mr. Becker, Dr. Roche.

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May 14, 2013

By Rebecca Bartels ’13

Bradley University’s Department of Psychology celebrates the 65th anniversary of its founding this year as well as the 90th birthday of Dr. Robert Lowder, a professor emeritus of psychology.

Lowder, a World War II Veteran and initially an engineering student, studied psychology at Bradley before spending 36 years learning about, teaching, and contributing to the field of psychology.

At the end World War II, Lowder attended the University of Arkansas, pursuing a degree in engineering. After moving to Peoria, he intended to finish his engineering studies, but he decided to visit a Peoria career counselor whose vocational counseling services were offered to veterans. Upon taking some career tests, Lowder was advised to go into the field of psychology. After his application was denied by Yale University for “being too old,” — he was 22 — Lowder decided to attend Bradley.

When Lowder arrived at Bradley, the Department of Psychology was a branch of the philosophy department, but with the determination of professor Carl Ellsworth Smith — a classmate of B. F. Skinner — an independent psychology department was founded in 1948. Smith was a polymath — his talents included cabinet making and violin — and he was beloved by students. The first hires in the department came with connections to well-known names in this still young discipline. For instance, the first psychologist on campus was W. Vernon Lytle, a Yale graduate, Watsonian behaviorist, and former student of Clark Hull. The psychology department grew very quickly in those early years and Lowder served as the first president of the Psychology Club in 1950.

Smith instituted a graduate program in 1949 and after Lowder completed his master’s, he set off to Idaho State University to work as an assistant professor. After four years he moved to Purdue University to earn a doctorate in industrial psychology. Lowder then worked for the United States Air Force for two summers, applying ergonomic psychology to airplane designs to make them more efficient and user-friendly for pilots. After his time with the Air Force, Lowder consulted for Stroh Brewery Company in marketing. He designed advertisements with the aid of psychology to appeal to the widest audience possible. Then, finding himself looking for a more rewarding and stable working environment, he began to search for an academic career.

Prepared to accept a job offer from Sacramento State University, Lowder was drawn to Bradley after receiving a letter from Carl Smith, who promised to hire him. On the Hilltop, Lowder found himself once again enchanted with the campus, the students and the teaching. Smith was an important mentor to Lowder during those early years. When Smith died in 1965, Lowder was instrumental in establishing the Carl Smith Award, which is given annually to psychology graduates who exhibit, “in the spirit of Dr. Carl Smith, academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, intellectual honesty, and contribution to Bradley University.”

During his Bradley career, Lowder was elected as Chairperson of the Psychology Department and held the position for five years. Dr. Claire Etaugh, a long-time professor in the psychology department, recalled how Lowder mentored her when she first joined the department fresh out of graduate school. "He had an enormous influence on my professional growth, showing me the intricacies of how a university works and introducing me to key people,” Etaugh said.

Lowder based his teaching philosophy on the premise that being direct and forthright was the best approach to helping students learn. He concentrated on teaching his students how to study effectively and he often passed out his old exams to encourage students to use all the resources available as study tools. Lowder worked hard so his students could succeed academically and succeed in the world.

“My job as a professor was to make it as easy as possible for the students to learn the material ... If my student’s aren’t learning, it’s my fault,” he said. “If a professor is doing his job, the students will learn.”

Lowder retired from Bradley at 68. He continues to visit campus from time to time and remains just as proud of his department as when he first joined it. He is still a strong believer in the power of education, and explains, “The goal of education is to lead you away from ignorance.”