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An inquiring mind about marriage, immigrants, Tootsie Pops

Mackenzie Mahler '15
09/28/2011
Assistant professor of psychology Sara Gorchoff
Psychology seems to be the perfect calling for the department’s newest faculty member, Sara Gorchoff. She has always wondered why people do the things they do, and she has been trying to figure out some of those mysteries since she was a child.

In her Introduction to Psychology class, Gorchoff revealed her love of finding answers by telling an anecdote. Everyone remembers the popular question of childhood: “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” Most children wouldn’t take the time to find out, but Gorchoff did just that, spending several hours on her porch researching the answer.

“I wrote in to the company,” she said. “They sent me a certificate. I think I still have it somewhere.”

Gorchoff said she loves psychology because it lets her “investigate human behavior and find out why they do things.” Some might say that sociology or anthropology could offer this opportunity, too, but Gorchoff enjoys the way that psychology combines science with her interest “in what people do and why.”

In particular, she said, she is interested in what they do when they are married.

“Marital satisfaction is an interesting topic to me,” said Gorchoff. “There’s a broad consensus that it’s important, but that we’re not really good at it yet. I’m interested in exploring the scientific method to make marriage more satisfying, and I hope my students can pick up on some of those elements to help get them started on the right path.”

A northern California native, Gorchoff studied at both UC-Santa Cruz, where she received her undergraduate degree, and UC-Berkeley, where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. That doesn’t mean that she will be unprepared for western Illinois winters, however. Before coming to Monmouth, she taught at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where the winters are known for being even colder and longer.

Many teaching candidates from prestigious schools like Berkeley are drawn to larger universities that offer more research opportunities, but Monmouth was attractive to Gorchoff because it focuses on student learning and puts the students first. She said she is looking forward to working with the wide variety of Monmouth students and that she’s excited to be a part of the psychology department because she can tell that her co-workers “really enjoy their jobs.”

Psychology isn’t the only academic discipline that draws Gorchoff’s attention. She is interested in Spanish language and culture and has studied abroad in Barcelona, an experience she “absolutely loved.”

With interests in psychology and Spanish, does Gorchoff have any plans for the type of interdisciplinary study for which Monmouth is becoming known?

“I introduce some cultural elements in my classes currently,” she said. “(Modern foreign languages faculty member) Diana Ruggiero and I are talking about a class that would integrate our interests, but that’s a long-term plan right now. I would love to teach a class that addresses psychological topics through literature. In particular, I’m interested in literature that talks about new immigrants to the U.S. and their identity shifts, and how their identities might be different than their parents.”

Just as she did when she was a child on her porch, there is no doubt that Gorchoff will work diligently to get to the center of such issues.