Cura Personalis: Amy Wolfson, Ph.D.
November 5, 2014
Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., came to Loyola in July as the vice president for academic affairs. Wolfson was most recently associate dean of the faculty, chair of the diversity leadership team, and professor of psychology at the College of the Holy Cross, where she had been a member of the psychology faculty since 1992.
Wolfson earned a B.A. in psychology, cum laude, from Harvard University and has her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Washington University, St. Louis.
Wolfson has been published in several prestigious peer-reviewed journals and is the author of two books, The Woman’s Book of Sleep: A Complete Resource Guide and The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior.
Wolfson’s academic leadership team at Loyola includes Jen Lowry, Ph.D., associate vice president for academic affairs; Marie Kerins, Ed.D., associate vice president for research and graduate affairs; Lorie Holtgrave, director of budgets and data management; Brian Norman, Ph.D., faculty development fellow; and the three academic deans.
What are your first impressions of Loyola?
I’m blown away by the faculty here. We need to celebrate much more what an accomplished faculty Loyola has in its tenure-track, tenured, and affiliate faculty. We need to come up with more ways that we acknowledge and incentivize and reward and provide the right time and space for faculty to do the work that ultimately brings a richness to the classroom and to our students. I do not think we are telling that story enough as a university, so I see that as a very high priority—how do we both provide the right recognition as well as the time, space, and depth.
What are some ideas you are reflecting on as you begin your new leadership role?
I have questions about breadth vs. depth for our students as well as for our faculty. We have a very elaborate core curriculum. How do we make sure we’re providing as much depth as breadth for our students? With the importance of enriching students’ lives and who we are as a Jesuit, Catholic institution, are we providing enough time for internships and for community-based projects? I think Loyola is at a very pressing time in our history. Universities are under a lot of pressure to be distinctive, and how do we make sure that we distinguish ourselves?
Are there specific academic areas you are interested in exploring?
I’ve thought a lot about how to promote the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. There are some natural relationships between STEM and business, STEM and the arts, engineering and business. Are we an institution that should be promoting and creating more opportunities for getting our students to apply to pharmacy, nursing, and medical school?
As a psychologist, how did you choose to do sleep research?
When I was at Washington University in St. Louis, I became close to a professor who was one of the early insomnia researchers. I was not interested in doing work on insomnia, but I was interested in sleep, and I was interested in behavioral medicine.
I had done some reading about the amount of sleep that babies need developmentally and different theories about where babies should sleep. Is co-sleeping best, is a family sleeping arrangement best, is independent sleeping best? My work as a graduate student was developing a program for first-time parents to help get themselves as new parents and their babies on the right track in terms of developing good and healthy sleep patterns. It was a very successful study, went on to be published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. And that really started my path to becoming a sleep and circadian rhythms researcher.
When you became a mother, did you apply your research to helping your son sleep?
The running joke is that there are just kids that—we don’t know why—settle more easily than others. Admittedly I lucked out with a child who was always an excellent sleeper. Later, when he was about 10, my son overheard me giving a radio interview about my sleep research. A few days later when it was time for him to go to bed, he put his hands on his hips and said, “Just because you’re a sleep researcher doesn’t mean you can tell me when to go to bed.”
What do you appreciate about working for a Jesuit institution?
When my mother died nearly 17 years ago, I sat shivah and was out for a week and I came back to a very moving voice mail from Fr. Jim Hayes . [Fr. Hayes, associate chaplain for mission at Holy Cross, earned an M.S. in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola in 1995.] It turned out that a dear friend and Holy Cross classmate of his had been to my mother’s funeral. He called him and said, “Jim, you must know Amy Wolfson, and I just want to let you know what a special person her mother was.” He shared this story with me and we have been dear friends ever since that moment.
To me, that’s an example of the richness of being in a place where people care about each other—whether it is students, staff, or faculty. He took the time to reach out to me in a way that I value as a teacher and colleague.