From Horses to Courses

An LVC psychology professor speaks with a student

Laura Shifflett ’12 has always found that her experience in psychology bleeds into her personal life. 

Working as a school psychologist for the Central Dauphin School District, Shifflett spends her days talking with kids and helping them survive the often-tumultuous period of elementary and middle school. She’s always been committed to studying pediatric psychology, but when the schools close for the day, she often treks to a nearby barn to blow off some steam. Shifflett is an avid equestrian, and she inevitably finds that working with animals parallels working with humans.

“It’s a sport in which you compete against other riders as well as yourself,” Shifflett said. “There’s a sort of bond that you form with the animal.”

Granted, as Shifflett admits, there’s a pretty significant difference between a fifth grader and a 1,200-pound horse, but the need to make connections, establish an understanding, and work cooperatively is common among humans and horses. Moreover, after a day of interacting with humans, she’s often happy to work with another species for a change.

Shifflett’s position at Central Dauphin is hard earned through years of study, though the common element through her years of experience has always been psychology through an educational institution. After her 11th grade psychology teacher made Shifflett passionate about the subject, she returned years later to intern at Palmyra High School, her alma mater. Shifflett saw the internship as a chance to grow while giving back to her community.

Later, Shifflett became a full-time research assistant at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. It was there that she decided to start her career at LVC.

“It was a really rigorous program,” said Shifflett of the College’s psychology curriculum. “The teaching staff and coursework prepared me for the next step in the field.”

Still committed to her research work, Shifflett nevertheless began taking classes part-time at The Valley. According to her, one of the most meaningful parts of her education was how, thanks to her position at Penn State, she could often immediately apply concepts that she learned to her work. Similarly, she praised the efforts of College professors to bring the real world into the classroom.

“Dr. Manza always gave me an honest assessment of my skills and what I could work on,” noted Shifflett.

Dr. Lou Manza, chair and professor of psychology, was Shifflett’s advisor during her time at LVC. She credits him and other professors for her readiness to dive into the often-demanding world of school psychology. 

Now, as she plans to earn her Ph.D. in psychology, Shifflett is dedicated to making the biggest difference in children’s lives through her position at Central Dauphin.

“I’m as tall as an average twelve year old, so I don’t think they feel threatened by me!” said Shifflett with a laugh, when asked about her propensity for working with kids.

When viewing her past experiences, it’s obvious that Shifflett is willing to put her heart into whatever she does—perhaps the reason that she has become trusted amongst students and horses alike.