New Faculty Members Join Department of Psychology

A dynamic cohort strengthens UM with their experience and expertise

OXFORD, Miss. – The Department of Psychology at the University of Mississippi has welcomed five new faculty members this year. They are Kristin Austin, Jeffery Bednark, Andy Hales, Grace Rivera and Kurt Streeter.

“It is with great enthusiasm we welcome these five outstanding new faculty to their new positions,” said Rebekah Smith, professor and chair of psychology. “They bring a range of experiences and expertise that support the goals of the department, college and university.

“Despite transitioning to new roles in the department during the pandemic, they have already been making important contributions in research, undergraduate and graduate education, and our service mission.”

Kristin Austin

Austin, a clinical assistant professor and director of the Psychological Services Center, earned her doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“I joined the psychology department in January 2021,” Austin said. “It was an interesting journey, to say the least, to be moving during a global pandemic from North Carolina to Mississippi. Although I had never visited Oxford prior to moving here, I was confident that the messages I received from faculty and students about the charms of this small college town would surely win me over.”

“Despite starting my position working remotely, I have felt incredibly welcomed and supported by my colleagues and students and reassured of my choice to join this department.”

Austin’s background and training are in the area of child and adolescent clinical psychology, including therapy and assessment. Her specialties are in ADHD, comorbidity, executive functioning, assessment and supervision/training.

“I have primarily been involved with graduate students through clinical supervision of psychological assessments and am looking forward to teaching an undergraduate course in the spring 2022 semester,” she said.

Jeffery Bednark

Bednark, an instructional assistant professor of psychology, received his doctorate in the field of cognitive neuroscience from the University of Otago in New Zealand and completed his postdoctoral training at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia.

“I am excited to be part of the Department of Psychology, where there is a strong focus on student learning, inclusion and advancing research,” Bednark said. “Both my Ph.D. and postdoctoral research focused on using cognitive neuroscience methods to understand learning in the brain.

“Additionally, I was part of the Australian Science of Learning Research Center that focused on bringing neuroscience principles into the classroom.”

Besides teaching, Bednark is joining the Inclusive Teaching Faculty Learning Community, where he is working to develop courses and teaching practices that are more inclusive and equitable.

Andy Hales

Hales, an assistant professor who earned his Ph.D. from Purdue University and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Virginia, is a social psychologist fascinated by all aspects of social life and decision-making.

“I’m delighted to join the community of researchers in the psychology department and to be continuing my research on social connections,” Hales said.

“I study the psychology of social ostracism and the causes and consequences of being left out. I hope to identify ways to help people cope with these negative experiences, or to avoid them altogether.”

Grace Rivera

Rivera, an assistant professor in the field of social and personality psychology, received her doctorate from Texas A&M University.

Her research is guided by an interest in how lay-theories – such as beliefs people hold about the way the world works – influence the way we approach life and the people around us. For example, in one line of work, she investigates questions such as: How do our beliefs about authenticity – i.e., feeling like one knows and can express their true self – shape our experience of psychological well-being, goal pursuit and even our personal relationships?

In other work, Rivera looks at American meritocracy beliefs and how preferences for individual versus systemic explanations of social inequalities can reveal subtle racial biases in social perceptions.

“From the first time I visited, I could see that this was a friendly and supportive space where people are excited to work together in the pursuit of learning and scientific discovery,” Rivera said. “I was drawn to this department by the cross-program research clusters of health and well-being, developmental perspectives and diversity science and was excited by the many opportunities for collaboration.

“While moving and starting a new position in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly came with unique challenges, I was grateful that even when working remotely I could see I had joined a campus community that found ways to connect with and support each other.”

Kurt Streeter

Attaining his master’s and doctoral degrees from Ole Miss, Streeter continued to serve as an adjunct until his recent promotion to instructional assistant professor of cognitive psychology. His academic responsibilities include teaching and reviewing online courses, offering a number of courses to support the major at the Desoto and Tupelo campuses, and academic mentoring.

He maintains a variety of research interests, including recent research exploring cross-cultural perceptions of naturalness, effects of ambivalence on critical thinking, as well as general interests in philosophy of mind and consciousness, psychology of faith structures and conceptualizations of freewill, and models of meaning in life.