Baylor psychology professor receives top award

By Amanda Hayes

After 57 years of teaching at Baylor, Dr. Roger Kirk, distinguished professor of psychology and statistics, said he received what he considers the most important award of his career.

Recently, he was honored with the American Psychological Foundation Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award.

“I feel so fortunate,” Kirk said. “There’s a lot of competition with so many great teachers.”

The Brewer award recognizes significant career contributions of a psychologist who has a proven track record as an exceptional teacher of psychology, according to the American Psychological Foundation.

Dr. Charles A. Weaver, department chair and professor of psychology and neuroscience, nominated Dr. Kirk for the award.

“He is a legend,” Weaver said about Kirk. “Learning statistics from Dr. Kirk is like taking an art class from Michelangelo, or evolution from Darwin. He is that big of a figure.”

Over the course of his career, Kirk said he found unique methods to help students understand the material. Kirk understands that statistics can be a dull subject, and uses his dance skills to get students’ attention.

“If my students’ eyes look glazed over, I will do a cha-cha step or tell a story about my wife, Jane,” Kirk said. “That gets them to come out of their stupor.”

Weaver said Dr. Kirk literally wrote the book on experimental design, as he teaches from his own textbooks.

“It’s as if the award were created for him,” Weaver said. “National recognition is long overdue.”

Kirk also has another reason to celebrate, as in three months he will be a pancreatic cancer survivor of two years.

During his college years at Ohio State University, Kirk was a trombone player and earned two degrees in music. When he realized music was not the career path for him, Kirk went through career counseling.

“God gives us all certain talents,” Kirk said. “I was pointed toward psychology, and I’m so happy.”

Before coming to Baylor in 1958, Kirk had never been to Texas. He was interested to see what it would be like, and said he had no idea he would find a home here.

Since then, Kirk has seen significant changes in Baylor facilities. When he first began teaching, the psychology department held classes in Air Force barracks which have since been torn down. The facility was in such poor condition, he once had a student whose chair went through the floor.

Kirk said his experience at Baylor is different from other universities because of its strong commitment to religious values and an emphasis on research that has increased throughout his career.

Kirk met his wife, a pianist in the Baylor School of Music, shortly after he came back to Waco from teaching a year in Fukuoka, Japan, in the early 1970s. He was interested in getting back to his roots in music, Kirk said, and a mutual friend in the music school introduced them.

Kirk said he now lives vicariously through her musical talent, Kirk said, and the couple uses their shared passion for music in the form of dance. Together, they have studied ballroom dancing for 23 years and taught for 15 years.

In August, Dr. Kirk will give an address at the annual American Psychological Association convention, held in Toronto this year. He will present what he has learned about teaching over 57 years.