When a shy graduate student needed to overcome her fear of public speaking to teach a college class, she unlocked a passion for education that chartered the course of her career. Dr. Susan K. Marell, who has devoted over three decades to teaching psychology as a professor at St. Thomas Aquinas College, says that the most rewarding aspect of teaching is “helping students build the confidence in themselves to pursue their goals and dreams.”
Dr. Marell joined the faculty after completing her doctorate in Personality and Social Psychology at New York University, where she also earned a master’s degree and Master of Social Work (MSW) and served as an adjunct professor. She credits her STAC colleagues and the thousands of students who have taken her classes for making possible a fulfilling career that continues to yield rewards every day.
“STAC is not just a college, but it is also a community,” she says. “We like and respect one another, and we work together in a very collegial manner. The connection that we as faculty have with our students is very unique, and I think it is at the heart of what makes STAC such a special place.”
Over the years, Dr. Marell has made many contributions to the psychology program. In 2006, she helped develop a program that enables highly qualified psychology students to begin New York University’s MSW program in their senior year and earn both their bachelor’s and master’s in just five years. Over 100 students have completed this hybrid program and gone on to successful careers in hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, schools, private practice, and more.
Chanel Brodeur-Muir ’22 says that Dr. Marell set her on the path to the NYU accelerated program despite the fact that she changed her major from biology to psychology in the spring of her junior year. “Dr. Marell was a tremendous help to me throughout this difficult transition. She has been a valued mentor, advisor, and role model,” says Chanel.
Nicole Shalaba ’22 also considers Dr. Marell’s support to be invaluable in her college journey. “It is a great feeling knowing someone believes in your abilities and is always in your corner,” she says. Lauren Cioffi ’22 calls Dr. Marell an “amazing professor,” and an “outstanding person. She has made sure that I was on the right path every step of the way and made me excited to push myself to achieve my goals,” Lauren says. “She has become one of my greatest influences.”
Besides teaching and mentoring students, Dr. Marell has held many other posts at STAC, including director of the Honors Program, chairperson of the Division of Social Sciences, and co-chairperson of the Middle States Self Study Steering Committee. Most recently, she served as the Executive Councilor for Academic Standards on the Faculty Senate. She has been a recipient of the Laetare Medal and the Academic Vision Award and was named a Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers six consecutive times. A member of the American Psychological Association, she has published her research in scholarly journals and presented on a variety of topics at professional conferences.
Experimental Psychology, Psychology of Women (soon to become “Psychology of Gender”), Personality Theory and Counseling and Psychotherapy are among the courses Dr. Marell has taught. She has also designed new courses, including Positive Psychology, Abnormal Child Psychology, and the upcoming Psychology for Sustainability, in which students will learn how psychological principles can help slow and potentially reverse climate change.
The popular Positive Psychology, which she introduced in 2004, focuses on mental health and building personal strengths and resilience. She calls it “the science of optimism and hope. I have often been told by my students that the course has been ‘life-changing.’ I have recently done research to see whether the positive effects of the course last once the semester is over, and my results show that for most students, the benefits often continue for years,” she says.
Originally from Brooklyn, Dr. Marell has lived in White Plains since she began teaching. She has two sons, the younger of whom attended STAC as an undergraduate and also completed his MBA at STAC. Dr. Marell loves to travel, from her favorite destination, Cape Cod, to gathering shells on the beaches of Sanibel Island, to cities like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Paris, Rome, and Vienna, from where her parents and extended family emigrated. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, sewing, nature hikes, and photographing her favorite subjects: her three grandchildren.