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Psychological Foundations of Education

Game Changer: Doctoral student Nic VanMeerten explores video games for the greater good

Nic Van Meerten

Like many 14-year-olds, Nic VanMeerten liked to play video games. Unlike most kids his age, he took things a step further. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and is currently investigating how people learn in video games and how this information can be used for the greater good—to make learning fun. Read more.

Understand the way people think, learn, and teach

As a student in the program, you’ll study the psychological processes critical to education. Research in our program focuses on cognitive and social-emotional development, including high-level cognition and factors shaping and enhancing learning throughout the lifespan. You'll use this knowledge to develop better educational processes and procedures for schools and other educational agencies, businesses, human and social service organizations, health care providers, government agencies, and more.

How to apply

Programs & degrees

Graduate (M.A., Ph.D.)

Masters and Ph.D. students choose between two areas of emphasis:

Learning and cognition / educational technology (M.A., Ph.D.)

  • Study how people think and learn
  • Research how people learn with technology and design research-based technologies to improve learning

Social psychological and developmental processes (M.A., Ph.D)

  • Study how social processes contribute to the success of schools and other educational organizations


Talent Development and Gifted Education Certificate

  • Develop, implement, and supervise programs to teach gifted and talented students in K-12 and postsecondary schools and other settings

EPSY 5135—Human Relations Workshop

  • Four credit course approved to meet the Minnesota Department of Education requirement for licensure
  • Includes simulation activities, curriculum writing, and supervised practice in basic human relations skills emphasizing social psychological principles involved in stereotyping and prejudice and their implications for educational practice


Learning and cognition / educational technology

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William M. Bart

Email | Lab

  • Relationships among cognition, instruction, and testing
  • Gifted and talented education
  • Chess expertise
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Panayiota Andrea Kendeou

Email | Lab

  • Cognitive processes in reading comprehension
  • Change of pre-existing beliefs and misconceptions
  • Technology-based comprehension interventions and assessments
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Robert D. Tennyson

Email | Lab

  • Cognitive processes in reading comprehension
  • Change of pre-existing beliefs and misconceptions
  • Technology-based comprehension interventions and assessments

Keisha Varma

Email | Lab

  • Cognitive processes in science learning
  • Scientific visualizations and student learning outcomes
  • Teacher knowledge development and effective teaching practice

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Sashank Varma

Program coordinator

Email | Lab

  • Understanding of abstract mathematical concepts
  • Long-term memory and language understanding
  • Computational models of mathematical reasoning, language understanding, and spatial problem solving
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Steve Yussen

Email | Lab

  • Memory and comprehension of stories
  • Narrative exchanges between children and parents (e.g., storybook reading, reminiscence)
  • The role of culture on narrative storytelling and memory

Social psychological & developmental processes

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Geoffrey Maruyama

Email | Lab

  • Achievement processes in schools and other organizations
  • Connections between social processes and educational success
  • Research and community partnerships in challenged communities and urban settings


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Chelsea Rowles


“I wanted to study learning and especially creativity in learning. The study of learning is not widely available at most schools and the U of M had a program I wanted, a good reputation, and was close to home.”

  • Interests: Creativity and art in learning
  • Work: Chelsea would like to do research into the importance of creativity. She is interested in the idea of mini-c, creativity for oneself and the importance and validity of self-creativity. She believes this is where we need to start to help ourselves and grow others in their creative abilities. Chelsea also is interested in the evaluation of creative programming and how we can better measure and understand the creative skills students are learning.
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Anthony Schulzetenberg


“I joined the Educational Psychology department because it offered an applied study of psychology along with a focus on real-world issues. The faculty are leaders in their fields, and they provide an exceptional learning environment, in both the classroom and research labs.”

  • Interests: Personal qualities and stereotype threats that may inhibit success in adults, how social psychological interventions can promote healthy self-concepts and interrupt damaging recursive cycles that perpetuate negative stereotypes
  • Work: Anthony owned a small business for 10 years, where he worked with a wide array of professionals in a health setting. He was awarded a national grant he currently uses to better understand the internal struggles in learning and comprehension, particularly within underrepresented college students. Through psychology and research, he is working to narrow the achievement gap in colleges across the country.
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Lara Westerhof

Psychological foundations student representative


"I want to help all students feel socially and emotionally equipped to learn."

  • Interests: How social and emotional factors affect student learning and development
  • Work: Partnerships with local non-profit organizations, including a job training program for low-income adults and a network of afterschool programs for urban youth