20 under 40: Alicia Nordstrom


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Alicia Nordstrom has always been interested in how people think and why they do what they do. So she double majored in religion and psychology to be sure she covered all the bases. As a resident assistant at the University of Rochester, she had to deal with the suicide attempt of one of her freshman charges.
“That’s when I really got interested in learning ‘why’ and in parental and familial effects,” Dr. Nordstrom says. The parent/child relationship become the focus of her graduate studies, particularly in terms of prevention. “I am interested in learning how to stop problems, before they start.”
Dr. Nordstrom says she never envisioned herself as a practitioner, preferring teaching and research. Her position at Misericordia University in Dallas allows her to pursue both passions — and mix them to great effect.
She is the founder of Misericordia University’s “The Voices Project,” a poignant staged reading of memoirs that promotes understanding and examines stereotypes and prejudice. The Voices project was so successful on campus that Misericordia took it to WVIA, where the program airs this month. (Monday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.)
Dr. Nordstrom says the project began as a class assignment, when she asked her students to talk about racial, religious and other kinds of prejudice. She says she was surprised and concerned that many of her students held stereotypical views of certain groups of people — and that’s when her penchant for prevention kicked in. “Students would report a stereotype and really believe in it,” she says. “Now I’m not a teacher. . . I must do something.”
What she did combines the best of research and teaching. She involved three groups of students. The first group did a standard assignment on stereotyping. The second selected an ethnic group and researched it. The third was the “voices’ group. These students met with and interviewed a person belonging to a stereotyped group. Then the student wrote a memoir in the first-person based on their interviewee’s experiences. Dr. Nordstrom was amazed and touched by her students’ writings — so much so that she got faculty members to participate in a staged reading of the papers in an event on campus. Three hundred people showed up to hear the stories. Afterward, she was pressed with questions about when she would do it again. That’s when the idea to get WVIA involved occurred.
Follow up with the students shows their attitudes changed — and stayed changed a year following the experience. “I felt that contact would work,” Dr. Nordstrom says. “And it did work!”

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