Serendipity led School Psychology Professor Emeritus Stewart Ehly to his area of expertise.
After completing his undergraduate training in psychology, Ehly was originally interested in pursuing a program in computer-based learning.
“I was very experienced working with rats but wanted more experience working with humans,” Ehly recalls. “I completed a computer language course late in my undergraduate years and was influenced by the ideas of educational psychologists who were exploring the possibilities of computer-based learning.”
So he applied to several graduate schools in this subarea of educational psychology. One program, the University of Texas, required on the application that he rank order his interest in their programs. As a backup, he listed school psychology.
That was the program that accepted him, and the rest is history.
“Although I had been accepted into programs at other institutions, the idea of moving to Texas had some appeal, and that’s where I ended up at the first APA-accredited program in school psychology,” Ehly says.
After receiving his PhD, Ehly worked as a school psychologist in the Fort Worth Independent School District, supervising two federally-funded projects for children, the development of other federal grant proposals, and training school professionals in a program of experience-based career education.
An opportunity opened at the College of Education, and Ehly joined the faculty here in 1979, dedicating his career to preparing future school psychologists and other mental health professionals. He says he was especially drawn to Iowa thanks to the national reputation of Iowa Testing Programs and the work of late faculty members Peg Clifford, Gordon Cantor, and Walter Foley.
Ehly recently retired after completing his 42nd year at the college, serving as the departmental executive officer of the Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations for three of those years.
What has he enjoyed most about his career?
“Perhaps my greatest enjoyment has centered on working with colleagues across campus,” Ehly says. “Since I have been here for so long, I have had the advantage of deepening friendships over time. Staff members within the college have been especially available to form connections that have made everyday life within the college so enjoyable.”
His colleagues say they have also cherished Ehly’s devotion to his students, his colleagues, and his career. He has served on hundreds of comps and dissertation committees, countless faculty search committees, and as the program coordinator for the School Psychology Program.
“He always put the program and students first, displaying perseverance, dedication and kindness,” says Megan Foley Nicpon, the current Departmental Executive Officer of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations.
Belin Blank Center Director Susan Assouline, who holds the Myron and Jacqueline N. Blank Endowed Chair in Gifted Education, and is a school psychology professor, lauded Ehly with an acrostic, sharing an attribute for each of the letters in his first name:
“S – Student-centered; T – Tenacious – never let a student or colleague down; E – Empathetic – towards all – colleagues as well as students; W – Whole-heartedly, genuinely a psychologist; A – Accepting of each person’s personal situation and builds with them from their starting point; R – Recommender of restaurants; and T – Teacher – and mentor to us all.”
Ehly has also relished conducting research and mentoring graduate students.
“The best moments associated with research have involved working with graduate students,” Ehly says. “From my arrival to the Division of Special Education when the college had seven divisions, to the current lineup of four departments, students have been eager to get involved with projects.”
Ehly’s early years focused on peer tutoring interventions, then mental health issues affecting children and school professionals, followed by parent-teacher communication and home-schooling practices.
“Whatever the emphasis, building projects and writing reports were pathways to introducing students to research opportunities,” Ehly says.
Ehly says he has witnessed many changes in the school psychology field over the years.
“The field changed dramatically in the 1970s with the passage of federal legislation that promoted psychological services,” Ehly says. “ When I arrived in Iowa in 1979, the state had begun to extend services to children through area education agencies.”
With the doctoral program receiving American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation in the 1990s, the School Psychology Program has prepared hundreds of school psychologists for positions in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and university training programs across the state and nation.
Ehly says he is proud to have served a program that has produced hundreds of exceptional researchers and psychologists, partnering with University of Iowa Health Care.
“Throughout the program’s history, a major strength has been our ability to train professionals to serve children in school and medical settings,” Ehly says. “ Since the 1950s, psychologists on both sides of our river have collaborated to develop interventions that will help children and their families. Access to professionals in the hospitals and clinics on campus has allowed us to extend the focus of our training to any setting that is designed to assist children.”
He adds he is gratified to see the program revitalized, with new faculty experts hired to continue to grow and strengthen the program since the state and nation need more school psychologists.
Now that Ehly has devoted more than four decades to school psychology, in retirement he says one of the things he’s most looking forward to is spending time with his grandchildren.