CMC Professor Diane Halpern: Retired But Still Present

Diane Halpern, a 13-year Professor of Psychology at CMC and former President of the American Psychological Association (APA), retired from CMC on June 30, 2014. Her legacy at the 5Cs, however, will live on. 

During fall of 2001, Halpern received a call from Ronald Riggio, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Psychology. Riggio met Halpern in 1979 when she was a professor at his graduate program, and he kept in touch with her throughout the years. When a position opened up at CMC at the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children, her name popped up. Halpern came to campus the very next day, and her new role there was settled after a few conversations.

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Halpern immediately left California State University in San Bernardino and became a Professor of Psychology and the first Director of the Berger Institute at CMC. Since then, Halpern has had a huge impact on students, faculty and the Psychology Department.

Sherylle Tan, the director of internships and Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) research, was first hired by Halpern in 2003 to be the Associate Director of the Berger Institute. Tan worked by her side for almost four years, and noted, “[Halpern] helped to bring prestige to the Psychology Department at CMC. It’s a really strong department … and I think she’s helped to build that.”

Riggio credits the success of the Institute to Halpern. As a mother of two children, Halpern was a perfect fit for the job. Professor Dan Krauss, the current Chair of the Psychology Department, added, “She created a name for that institution and brought in this idea of work, family, life balance at the institution and globally.”

Mabelle Bong SC ’15 decided to be a Psychology and Art double major after taking Halpern’s introductory psychology class her freshman year. She explained that Professor Halpern taught her that "I’m a lot smarter than I think I am, and I need to trust that I can do it. She just has a lot of confidence in me and my fellow research assistants … and that drove us to work harder because we didn’t want to disappoint her,” Bong commented.

After three years at CMC, Halpern became the President of the APA, the world’s largest organization of psychologists. Not only is she one of the most famous cognitive psychologists of her generation, but Halpern is also an expert on gender issues. In 2009, she was named Trustee Professor of Psychology and George Roberts Fellow at CMC, in addition to serving as the Psychology Department Chair until 2011.

Despite her many accomplishments, it was hard for Halpern to pinpoint her greatest achievement at CMC. After a few minutes of deliberation, she said, “I would have to say clearly, and I say this honestly, it’s in the success of my students. Most students go on and do incredible things with their lives. If I was a little tiny piece of that, that’s pretty exciting.”

Many of Halpern’s students remember her for her humor, which provided comfort in times of stress. Despite being so well-known in her field, her down-to-earth and caring personality made her stand out from other professors. Christopher Pentoney CGU ’15 recalls Halpern's ability to keep track of each student’s project and give individual attention. Pentoney mentioned, “she’s the kind of professor that ... helps take you out of where you want to be, like where you’re comfortable with, and pushes you to where you need to be.”

As a colleague, Riggio describes Halpern as "ideal”—friendly, helpful, hard-working, even-tempered.

Tan commented, “If she believes in you, she’s an advocate for you and a mentor. She’s always willing to help you out, to advance your career, to just kind of give you that push and say, ‘you can do it!’”

Retiring is not an easy transition for Halpern; she noted how much she already misses CMC. When asked what she will miss most after retiring, she said, “I’ll miss the questions: ‘what did I mean when I said this’ or ‘had I considered something else.’ I’ll miss all the emails—believe it or not. I’ll miss my wonderful colleagues that I had the opportunity to eat lunch with and just hang around with for lots of years.”

And Halpern will be missed dearly. Without a pause, Riggio said, “I miss her already. I miss her colleague-ship. I miss going down the hall and talking to her, bouncing ideas off of her… And just her friendship. She’s been one of the people I’ve known the longest.”

Angelo Liao CMC ’16 added, “[I’ll miss] that I can just go to her office hours and tell her any good news, our check-ins about how I’m doing and what I’m doing with my life.”

“I’ll miss hearing her voice,” Tan continues, “When she asks me about my daughter, she calls her my ‘boopsey-bear’. Just little things like that, just these little sweet things that she says and does.”

Halpern wanted to thank the CMC community: “It is a incredible place. It’s hard to even understand the high quality education you get because you sort of get used to it. But it’s really a place where people can bloom and grow. And I’m very grateful for having been there. And for the wonderful people,” Halpern said.

Students and faculty members will honor Halpern in a celebration this spring, where renowned scholar and psychologist Robert Sternberg will be a keynote speaker. Though gone from CMC, she can still be found at Keck Graduate Institute’s Minerva program as the Founding Dean of Social Sciences, and she plans to visit often.

Currently, the Psychology Department is searching for new cognitive and health psychology professors. Krauss commented, “I’m hopeful that we’ll get a bright, energetic person, but we’re never going to replace her; we’re never going to have another person like her here at the college.”