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Dr. James Olson profile pic

Dr. James Olson

Professor of Psychology

"You can do it! Find the time. Persistence to the degree is worth the effort now."

Degrees Held:

  • Ph.D. in Psychology — The University of California — Los Angeles, 1974
  • M.A. in Psychology — The University of California — Los Angeles, 1970
  • B.A. in Psychology — The University of California — Santa Barbara, 1969

Career Highlights:

In his personal life, Dr. Olson grew up surfing. He attended high school in Santa Barbara, and lived a half mile from the beach. He has surfed the Pacific coast from Mexico to Oregon, as well as Texas and Hawaii. He dreamed of becoming a high school teacher so he could have summers free to surf. As he worked an early morning janitorial job, he attended Santa Barbara City College for two years, then transferred to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Once he turned 21 years of age, he left janitorial work and started bartending to put himself through college.

He received his B.A. degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he was named the "Outstanding Student in Psychology" in 1969. Being a first-generation student, he didn't know the ropes, and luckily, one of his professors encouraged him to work on the Ph.D. degree instead of a high school teacher certification credential. He applied to two graduate schools, Stanford and UCLA, and took the offer at UCLA which included financial assistance as a teaching assistant. He began UCLA in fall 1969.

He needed to supplement his income at UCLA after the birth of his son and began teaching Introductory Psychology at Santa Monica College and Pasadena City College. He was teaching three animal labs at UCLA, plus two classes each at Santa Monica and Pasadena. He was busy, still working on graduate studies and being a new father.

The University of Texas System established The University of Texas Permian Basin in 1969. He actually interviewed for the position at Disneyland! He was selected and became one of UT Permian Basin's "Founding Faculty" when it opened its doors for classes in fall of 1973. Surfing took a back seat!

In 1976, he received the Amoco Award for Excellence in Teaching, given annually to one faculty member at each campus of The University of Texas System in recognition of "outstanding teaching performance at the undergraduate level." He was instrumental in the development of UT Permian's Counseling Center opening in 1978. He also served early as chair of psychology, following which he served as director of the division of Behavioral Sciences. In 1989, he received the largest research grant to that date, totaling $189,000 from the Department of Justice to study residential burglary. His research on residential burglars was covered by Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, including an invitation to the Today Show. In 1990, he received the President's Award for Excellence in Research.

He has co-authored three books: "Basic Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences" (1981, Holt, Rinehart and Winston); "Breaking and Entering: An Ethnographic Analysis of Burglary" (Sage Publications, 1991); and "Breaking and Entering: Burglars and Burglary" (Wadsworth Publishers, 2004). His 1991 book was nominated for the C. Wright Mills Book Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. In addition, he has written eight book chapters and 30 refereed journal articles.

In 1994, he was appointed dean of the newly formed College of Arts and Sciences and served ten years until 2004. Subsequently, he served as director of faculty development and now he is back to being the chair of the department of psychology.

The core of his activities across his 45 years at UT Permian Basin has revolved around his students. Dr. Olson's teaching motto is, "the student is never a bother." He has been selected for several prestigious teaching awards: (1) as mentioned, the Amoco Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1976; (2) the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor, 2011, for "outstanding teaching" with competition from each of the 165+ public and private colleges and universities in Texas; and (3) The University of Texas Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, 2012, "to recognize faculty who demonstrate commitment to teaching and sustained capability to deliver excellence to the undergraduate learning experience." In 2013, he received the president's "Outstanding Service" award. He is the only faculty member to have received the president's awards for outstanding teaching, research and service. In 2017, he was selected for the V. Ray Cardozier Professorship, established to "reward and support faculty excellence."

He lives in Midland, Texas with his wife, Cindy, and their dog, Cinco. They have three adult children; a son and two daughters.

In which online degree program do you teach?

Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

Which classes do you teach online?

Introductory Statistics; Drugs & Behavior; Industrial and Organizational Psychology; Introduction to Counseling; Psychopharmacology; and Current Psychotherapies

What do you want your students to learn in your classes?

I want students to be confident in themselves. With effort and time, you can do it. Competence is not the issue, effort is. I also want them to learn to support their skill and knowledge bases with scientific evidence.

Why did you start teaching?

I wanted to teach so I could have summers off and surf. Then I found I was good at academics and loved psychology, so I applied to graduate school at UCLA where I began teaching a psychology lab course in 1969.

What's the best advice that you could give your students?

You can do it! Find the time. Persistence to the degree is worth the effort now.

What qualities make someone particularly successful in your work?

It's important to care about students. Show unconditional positive regard to all.

What is the one book you think everyone should read?

Books about the brain, written by Michael Gazzaniga

Tell us something interesting about yourself that your students might not know about you.

I collect old toy trains. To be specific, I collect Lionel toy trains from the 1950s. That's my hobby since I can't surf in west Texas.

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