These days, TMCC Psychology Professor Bob Fletcher teaches general psychology to TMCC students in virtual classroom spaces. However, as he admits, “I’ve always been interested in doing different things,” and in his long career, he has done exactly that: as the current and longtime Department Chair of the Social Science department, Fletcher has also managed TMCC’s former Mental Health Program (which trained “Mental Health Technicians” who would work in health facilities in Nevada), he assisted in the development of TMCC’s first Education Program, as well as teaching a wide variety of courses that included general psychology, addiction, mental health and others in in-person, online and televised versions.
Fletcher came to TMCC at an interesting time in his life. Originally a philosophy major, Fletcher had envisioned himself becoming a family lawyer. Yet, he discovered early on that law school was not quite what he thought it would be. As he finished his undergraduate degree, the advice of a friend helped him find a new direction.
“I was always a good listener, and someone suggested I look into psychology, and that was how I started graduate school,” he said, explaining that psychology would enable him to work toward a parallel career to family law: counseling. And yet, as Fletcher continued to take classes, counseling theory paled in comparison to topics like neuroscience.
As he was completing his graduate degree and clinical hours, the licensure requirements in the state changed, which created a barrier for starting his official career as a counselor. It was also the interruption that changed the trajectory of his life: instead of meeting the new state licensure requirements, he decided to put his professional life on hold and travel.
“I spent years traveling overseas, and that was a transformative experience for me,” he said. “The truth is, I didn’t want to start my career yet. I felt like I needed to know more about the world.”
Perspectives and Psychology
Fletcher’s adventures abroad began in Tokyo, Japan where he taught English to Japanese students for a year. The experience also resulted in a job offer to teach English at a university in Thailand, which he turned down to spend several months in India. He would visit myriad cities and countries: Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Osaka, among several others. His professional world—as well as the world itself—seemed to open up. “I was really excited to stay in Asia. I came from a small town in Northern California, where the closest neighbors were a few miles away. The entire experience really changed me,” he said. “All of that really made me re-think my goals.”
When Fletcher returned to the United States, he shifted his focus from counseling to working as an educator, which is how he eventually found his way to TMCC as an instructor of psychology, a career that was both fulfilling and sustainable.
Interestingly, Fletcher’s favorite class to teach is the very one that he found exceptionally difficult as an undergraduate student: general psychology. It’s a class that walks students through the diverse psychological disciplines that run the gamut from neuroscience to psychotherapy. Within that broad range of topics, however, students gain fundamental skills that will follow them throughout their academic and professional careers. “A good psychology student learns critical thinking,” he said. “The discipline requires you to question your assumptions, while it offers students plenty of intellectual challenges.”
In the current context of COVID-19, Fletcher has designed assignments that enable students to express their anxieties about the world. Fletcher has also relaxed due dates, especially during the added strain during the early months of the pandemic, which helped students with balancing the demands of their personal lives with their academic course load. “I maintain low anxiety in my classes while asking students to complete high-quality work that also asks them to vent and reflect. Fortunately, I teach psychology so it’s pretty easy to do that. I think that’s important… so I design assignments so that allowing students to vent is actually part of the task,” he said.
Changing College Culture
In addition to adapting to shifting student dynamics over the years, Fletcher has also been involved with developing college policies and procedures. For example, Fletcher helped to develop the official college travel policy, one of many that have contributed to the evolving campus culture at TMCC. “What I’ve noticed over the years is that there has been a real attempt to create better policies where we need them. It felt like a bit of the Wild West when I first came here. And it was fun… but I’ve enjoyed developing policies and moving the college forward,” he said.
Fletcher has also witnessed a change in the number of credits required for general education degrees—a change that happened at colleges nationwide—and that occurred at the moment when he became chair of the Social Sciences department. And yet, the value that students gain from social sciences—insights into culture and, as Fletcher said: “...a scientific understanding why people do what they do”—is a vital element of a well-rounded academic experience.
“Social science allows us to make statements about behavior. And social sciences remind us that behavior can be studied,” he said.
Moving Forward Mindfully
For students working on their education now, Fletcher advises them to provide themselves with structure in regards to scheduling tasks and a timeline for completing them. “In addition to structure, it’s really important for everyone to be gentle to themselves, and to ask for help,” he said.
Fletcher’s journey can also serve as a reminder of the importance of opening yourself up to ideas, possibilities and to explore them fully in order to recognize the change(s) you want to see in your life. “Students should definitely take more social science classes,” he said. “And travel abroad.”
For more information about studying the social sciences at TMCC, contact the department at 775-673-7185.