ASU Department of Psychology leaps forward with gift from emeritus professor

April 30, 2018

Since arriving on the Arizona State University campus in 1971 as a new assistant professor, Robert Cialdini has been giving to the Department of Psychology — through his ground-breaking research, compelling teaching and mentoring, and generous service to the broader community. 

Now, 47 years later, the Regents’ Professor Emeritus of psychology and marketing continues to give. Along with his wife, Bobette Gorden, he has created the Robert B. Cialdini Leap Forward Fund, which provides $500,000 to elevate the department’s research, application, teaching, and outreach missions. Regents’ Professor Emeritus Robert Cialdini and his wife Bobette Gorden gave $500,000 to the ASU Department of Psychology. Regents’ Professor Emeritus Robert Cialdini and his wife Bobette Gorden gave $500,000 to the ASU Department of Psychology. Photo by Influence at Work Download Full Image

“The Leap Forward funds recognize that the starting point for research accomplishments at ASU is way up high,” Cialdini said. “We thought it would be beneficial to provide resources to allow a leap to the next level.”

The department’s early investments are diverse and include seed-funding for a cutting-edge faculty research project on positive emotions in marriage, an intervention to help students with alcohol infractions, summer opportunities for students to gain experience in the department’s research labs, computing infrastructure for enhancing big data analyses, technology for facilitating brain imaging research and opportunities for doctoral students to get specialized training during summers.

“Not too long ago, we made a conscious decision not to make any big lifestyle changes in retirement and to instead help causes we believe in,” Gorden said. “We believe in the people who make up the ASU Department of Psychology. It is all about the people, and we believe the department will be a good shepherd of these funds.”

“This donation is so much like Bob and Bobette,” said Foundation Professor and Department of Psychology Chair Steven Neuberg. “They’ve contributed greatly to the department in the past and are helping to lead us into the future. We’re very grateful — for the forward-looking opportunities provided by their gift, and for the trust they have in us to be creative, effective stewards of it.”

An empty desk

Cialdini’s path to a storied career at ASU and as an internationally renowned author began with an empty desk at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He studied psychology in college but focused on animal behavior. His first publication in a peer-reviewed journal was in Science: the study was on earthworm pheromones. Cialdini said he was planning to go to graduate school to become an ethologist.

“But, I had a mad crush on Marilyn Repinski,” he said. “She was taking a social psychology course and there was an empty desk next to her. At that point in our relationship, we wanted to be together all of the time, so I sat in the desk and took the course.”

By the end of the semester, Cialdini said he was more enamored with social psychology than with Marilyn.

Cialdini told his social psychology professor that he made a mistake by planning to study animal behavior in graduate school and that he wanted to study human behavior. At the time, one graduate program was still accepting applications. Cialdini applied to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and was accepted. After earning his doctorate from UNC, he completed post-doctoral studies at Columbia University before joining the ASU Department of Psychology.

“What if there hadn’t been an empty desk?” Cialdini asked. “I found my passion by a fortuitous accident.”

A home at ASU

Cialdini credits the supportive culture at ASU with allowing him to pursue his passion of studying human behavior.

“ASU is home and has been my home for 35 years,” Cialdini said. “I am grateful to the university and department for giving me the support and freedoms to really accomplish some of my goals.”

In 1984, Cialdini published “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion,” which has sold over 3 million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages. He recently wrote a new book, “Pre-suasion: a Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” Together with Gorden, Cialdini now runs the company Influence at Work, and he is revising “Influence” for an upcoming sixth edition.

“My ASU colleague Wilhelmina Wosinska told me that my book ‘Influence’ has been taught for so long in Poland that her students think I am dead,” Cialdini said. “I have to update the book to disabuse the Polish students of my demise.”

Science writer, Psychology Department


Internships guide first-generation grad's career goals

April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

A first-generation college student who grew up in Tempe, Melissa Beltran will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in sociology in May. From very early on in Beltran’s life, her parents always stressed the importance of a college education to both her and her two siblings. Thus, Beltran dedicated much of her time in middle school and high school to preparing for her time at ASU. She was part of the AVID program in middle school, which was designed to prepare students for college-level work. Picture of Melissa Beltran in ASU cap and gound. Melissa Beltran has learned is that education is a lifelong journey. “It doesn’t stop after graduation. I’m prepared to learn for the rest of my life,” she said.

She also joined the ACE program in high school, which allowed her to take classes at Mesa Community College on Saturdays. She earned 18 credits through that program before even starting at ASU. It was through ACE that she took her first sociology class and found her passion and major.

Beltran has loved her time here at ASU and has excelled in her studies. She has also taken advantage of internship opportunities, which have helped her determine her career goals. Through an internship at Gililland Middle School, she developed an interest in counseling. Another internship in the ASU Math Department advising office has piqued her interest in pursuing a master’s in higher education with a concentration in advising and/or counseling. However, during her time here, one of the biggest lessons Beltran has learned is that education is a lifelong journey.

“It doesn’t stop after graduation. I’m prepared to learn for the rest of my life,” she said.

Along the way during her college career, she got married and increased her support system exponentially. Her husband is also a student and is working on his accounting degree. They push each other to work hard and succeed.

And what about her siblings who were also encouraged to go to college? Her brother just graduated with a degree in exercise and wellness, and her sister is pursuing a degree in exercise science at Mesa Community College. Beltran says that they all support each other in the pursuit of their education and career goals. And, of course, beaming with pride are Beltran’s parents who have succeeded in raising three children who consistently heard their message about the importance of education and have followed a path that was paved with the hopes and dreams of the generation before them.  

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I think my “aha” moment was my senior year when I got a counseling internship and I realized I loved going every day and applying what I learned to real-life situations. I learned that I enjoyed talking and helping others in every way I could, and I realized I was on the right path.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was my first and only choice, because my brother attended ASU and because it was less than five minutes away from my home!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would definitely advise students to take advantage of all the opportunities given to them. Do as many internships as you can, get a job on campus, attend all the events, get involved and definitely get to know professors/advisers/staff in your school. It will definitely benefit you in different ways.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I’m a nature person so it was very convenient that the Social Sciences Building housed my advising office and professors’ offices and had a nature theme. It is a great place to cool down, look at all the beautiful plants and green scenery and clear my mind!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to go to graduate school for an education degree and hopefully work at ASU or other universities or fully pursue my dream of traveling around the world.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Environmental sustainability — we need to do way more to preserve our planet if we want to continue living here!

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics