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Look closely at the next men’s basketball game. Sitting on the bench with the players likely will be Alan Childs, professor and head of psychology and faculty mentor to the men’s basketball team. As a faculty mentor he serves as a link between academics and athletics and is a resource for basketball players. Childs often goes to practices (particularly early in the season to get to know the freshmen), home games, and travels to away games when he can. He sits on the bench with the players during games.

“Basketball is a game I’ve always loved,” says Childs. “I would be at the Lafayette games anyway. As a kid, I played basketball until dark in the summer. We had a hoop on a telephone pole. In the winter we would shovel a place to play. I played in high school. My sons were very involved in basketball, playing through high school. My eldest son is the head freshman basketball coach at Easton High School. Being a faculty mentor allows me to remain connected to the sport.”

“I’m a resource for the students,” he continues. “We talk about majors, life after college, really anything they want to discuss. I give the students ideas to help solve academic problems. You get close to some them and they stay in touch even after they leave.”

Childs teaches the introductory psychology course. “I like teaching,” he says. “I like freshmen. I like being the person who introduces students to psychology. Almost every year we use a new textbook, so as I prepare new lectures it helps me stay current with the new ideas in the broad field of psychology outside my own specialty.”

He says for some students this is the very first college course they take. “The energy in the room is palpable,” says Childs. “There’s this electricity, this excitement in the air. As a teacher, you want things to click. You want students to like your discipline.” He adds it’s rewarding when students say they want to major in psychology because they liked his introductory course. “Sometimes graduates will say they still remember something about your course from years ago. You’ve had an impact on this person. I float on the cloud for the rest of the day. That’s why we teach.”

Childs also teaches a health psychology course. “We look at mind and body issues, social and cultural issues, and issues in our heath care system,” he says. “For example, why do people smoke when they know it is bad for them? What are the incentives to use or misuse a health care system? We look at prevention issues and ways to change behavior.”

He is currently researching the patient-physician relationship, and is piloting a survey of both patients and physicians to learn how they view themselves and each other in such areas as communication skills.

Sarah K. Marsh ’97, a biology graduate, enjoyed the health psychology courses she took with Childs so much she decided to earn a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan. She is now a research assistant at Michigan’s Poverty Research and Training Center, working on studies into poverty, health and welfare reform.

“I loved my biology courses, but Dr. Childs turned me on the idea of prevention,” Marsh says. “I remember him writing on the board some statistics about how a few dollars on immunizations saves much more money in treating diseases down the road, and how a few dollars for Head Start saves a lot of money in remedial classes in the future. I wondered why if we know this, we don’t do it. He planted a seed and I realized I was interested in the broader issues of public health and policy.”

“While his classroom lessons were influential, I think he taught me important life-lessons, too,” Marsh adds. “Dr. Childs helped me see practical applications of things I was studying in terms of what a career could be built upon, and helped me begin to make that bridge from academia to a life’s work. By respecting and encouraging me, he helped me learn to trust my own decisions. His moral support when I was in grad school was wonderful. His enthusiasm for what I’ m doing is great.”

“Dr. Childs taught us how health is intertwined with all other aspects of life,” says Jeanne Christensen ’97, who also earned a master’s degree in public health at Michigan and is now a contractor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. “To be successful in improving health status you need to look at the whole picture. He gave us the initial understanding and the foundation on which we could grow.”


Honors: Crawford Award for teaching, 2001; Daniel Golden ’34 Award for service to Lafayette, 1997; American Council on Education Fellow, 1986-87; Student Government Superior Teaching Award, 1985.

Achievements: Chair, Health Professions Faculty Advisory Committee; health professions adviser, 1997-2002; faculty mentor, men’s basketball team, 1990-present; dean of academic services, 1987-1991; first executive director of Colonial League (predecessor to Patriot League), 1987-1990; American Council on Education fellow, 1986-87.

Contact: (610) 330-5292,

Categorized in: Academic News