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Living with a Smile: Professor Credits Cancer for Positive Changes in His Life

Posted: December 5, 2013

Steven Schmidt’s interest in psychology grew as his own psychological makeup changed from his experience with cancer. At 28, Schmidt was on his way up in the world with a good-paying information technology job and a sought-after title of manager when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1997. “Fixing computers for a manufacturing plant was no longer meaningful to me,” Schmidt said.

In 1999, after he received a bone marrow transplant and was in recovery, Schmidt, who had taken a couple of psychology courses at a local community college, decided he wanted to study the psychological changes that he and other cancer survivors experienced afterward.

“For lack of a better term, the spiritual things are much more important,” Schmidt, now 44, said of cancer’s influence on his life. He developed a greater level of compassion and placed stronger value on personal relationships because of his illness, he said. “One of the things I really learned is the power of—this is going to sound really corny—but the power of smiling,” Schmidt said.

After a 15-year career in information technology, he received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and then received his master’s and doctorate in May in human development and family studies from the University of Connecticut. His doctoral dissertation was on “Posttraumatic Growth Reported by Emerging Adults: A Multigroup Analysis of the Roles of Attachment, Support, Coping and Life Satisfaction.”

While working on his master’s degree, Schmidt—a two-time Jack Kent Cooke scholar—worked as a teaching assistant. “I fell in love with teaching,” he said. While Schmidt continues to do research, he said he likes that Wilson emphasizes teaching students while other schools push instead for professors to have their research published. Schmidt also researched the development of gender-role traits and behaviors. After giving up the corporate world himself, he is interested in how many in corporate America could be so “cutthroat” in how they behaved with other people personally and professionally. “That didn’t make them likeable, but it did make them successful.”

Wilson’s low student-to-teacher ratio is what sold him on moving from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. “It was a dream fit for me,” he said of Wilson.

Since moving to Chambersburg in July, Schmidt has taken an active role outside of the classroom as well as inside it. He re-established the College’s Psychology Club. He has volunteered with the cancer fundraising event called Relay for Life in Chambersburg and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Central Pennsylvania chapter in Harrisburg.

While Chambersburg is much different from Connecticut, Schmidt said he likes his new town. “People around here are much friendlier and laid-back,” he said.

Schmidt, who is single, also has decided to add to his family since moving to Wilson. “I’m adopting a cat from VMT,” he said of the College’s veterinary medical technology program.

Schmidt has resurrected the College’s Psychology Club and brought vigor to his courses, said Associate Professor of Psychology Carl Larson. Schmidt also has established service-learning and internship opportunities for students, according to Larson.

“He’s not doing it because he loves his office,” Larson said. “He does it because he loves Wilson and wants to benefit others.”

“The personal rewards I’ve experienced have far exceeded my expectations,” Schmidt said. “I’ve really been blessed to have the opportunities I have here.”

Last Updated: December 5, 2013