Psychology Professor Is Noted for Encouraging Undergraduate Research
Chestertown, MD, October 4, 2000 — The Board of Visitors and Governors of Washington College recently raised $2 million to endow a new chair in honor of College President John Toll, one of the most highly regarded educators in the nation. This fall, the Board named as the inaugural chairholder a senior faculty member who over the past decade has transformed the psychology department into a top academic performer.
"Of all the faculty members who do not already hold endowed professorships or chairs, George Spilich, professor and chair of the department of psychology, is outstanding in his teaching, research and service to the College," noted College President John S. Toll. "Everyone knows he is a gifted teacher, but not all colleagues realize that he has done some very important research. He is a marvelous leader who maintains very high standards for both his students and his faculty. In addition to these qualities, his selfless efforts to help students and to promote Washington College made him the logical choice for the John Toll Chair."
The Board devised the John Toll Chair to go to an outstanding faculty member in any discipline who, according to the Board resolution, "represents in exemplary fashion the College's goals of superb teaching and advising, fine research and excellent service, and who displays a strongly positive attitude and a deep commitment to Washington College and its students."
George Spilich is a champion of undergraduate research who, several years ago, worked with his colleagues to revamp the department's curriculum to emphasize engaged learning. He and his department members endeavor to get students involved in research as early as their freshman year, and continue to guide them through their academic studies and to train them to use the most sophisticated research techniques, laboratory equipment and instructional technology available.
As a direct result, Washington College, among its liberal arts and sciences peers, graduates a disproportionately higher number of students who go on to earn the Ph.D. and M.D. degrees, and national test scores in psychology have skyrocketed. In May 2000, the College's graduating psychology majors scored at the 91st percentile on the Educational Testing Services' national outcomes exam in psychology, and at the 98% percentile in behavioral neuroscience, a concentration that was established in 1992. This graduating class of 33 was awarded three-quarters of a million dollars in graduate scholarships and stipends. The program in psychology and behavioral neuroscience has been identified as a national leader in faculty-student research, averaging about 40 student co-authors per year at peer-reviewed professional conferences. Faculty also publish with student co-authors in peer-reviewed professional journals.
Spilich's own research investigates how performance of skilled tasks such as driving and reading are affected by nicotine or alcohol. He also explores how fatigue compounds the effects of those drugs in contributing to accidents on the road and in the workplace. Other investigations with colleagues at universities here in the U.S. and abroad deal with neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease; sex differences in cognitive processes; and visuospatial memory.
Spilich has published extensively in the area of human memory and performance, with a focus on pharmacological treatment of dementia and the effects of nicotine upon skilled performance. In addition to several articles underway with student co-authors and colleagues, Spilich is working on a book project, Tobacco, Nicotine and Cognitive Performance, and a CD-based multimedia text, Cognitive Neuroscience for Everyone!
Spilich joined the Washington College faculty in 1979, and has served as department chair since 1983. Under the Fulbright Research Scholars program, he was a visiting research associate professor of neurology and nuclear medicine at the University of Zagreb Hospitals in Croatia, in 1988-89. He served on the Board of Directors of the Eastern Psychological Association from 1995-1998, and presently is serving his second three-year term as Councilor to the Psychology Division of the Council for Undergraduate Research.
In addition to his scholarly work, he has written several successful grants for new scientific instrumentation, most recently finding funds to upgrade research laboratory facilities to support undergraduate research in cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, developmental and social processes, and sensation and perception, among others.
He has served on several academic committees, including the Premedical Committee, the Graduate Council, Academic Affairs, Academic Computing, and the Information Technology Steering Committee. He won the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1990.Spilich earned his bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds a master's degree in experimental psychology from the University of Texas-El Paso and his Ph.D. in cognitive and developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.
Despite his significant achievements, Spilich believes that his recent appointment to the endowed chair carries not the recognition of his value as a teacher and mentor, but the expectation for continued accomplishments.
"An endowed chair named for John Toll comes with the responsibility to work with faculty, students and alumni to elevate the national reputation of Washington College. I'll have to do something really big in the next year or two."
The Toll Chair is the third of five endowed chairs to be created during the $72 million Campaign for Washington's College.