Ask Ty Abernathy if he has to go to class, and he’ll respond with a correction—he gets to go to class.
"Dr. Ty," as his students call him, counts it a privilege to teach at Mississippi State and interact with students. He came to MSU as a graduate student in 1995 and built strong connections within the Bulldog community. His friendships now span the generations from some of the newest faces on campus to senior faculty mentors. And connecting with a variety of people from all walks of life seems to come naturally for him.
With a background in psychology and cognitive science, the assistant clinical professor is passionate about helping others succeed, and he knows a few critical keys to success that data show help college students reach their academic goals. His past work with the Pathfinders initiative helped students by encouraging class attendance. As a result of increasing attendance and reducing absences, both retention and graduation rates increased at the university to more than 85% and 60%, respectively.
As a College of Education faculty member in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Abernathy said he knows some subjects like the back of his hand, such as the Human Growth and Development course he’s taught for 15 years. Still, he enjoys every day in the classroom because “it’s all about the students,” he said.
“If it wasn’t for the students, this wouldn’t be much fun at all,” he joked about the university. He loves getting to know them individually—where they come from, how they chose MSU, and about their career aspirations and other hopes and dreams for the future.
But after years of classroom teaching, Abernathy is enjoying teaching outside the classroom—and outside of the U.S. He currently is leading more study-abroad trips than any other MSU faculty member, with several trips planned annually. His students are literally expanding their horizons by “traveling with Ty.”
Abernathy said faculty leaders of study-abroad trips do a large amount of advance planning—including significant paperwork and holding interest sessions with prospective participants.
The hard work pays dividends, and the rewards for both the teacher and student travelers are manifold. Abernathy has led recent groups to Vienna, Austria, and Prague, Czech Republic; Seville, Spain; Dublin, Ireland; and Athens, Greece.
“In March, I’m going back to Seville and then back to Vienna and Prague in May, but I’m adding Salzburg, Austria (where the Sound of Music was filmed) and Leipzig, Germany (the birthplace of psychology),” Abernathy said. “That’s where Wilhelm Wundt, the father of psychology, developed what we now know as psychology.”
Students can enroll in these psychology-focused international explorative travel courses as either an undergraduate or graduate student because they are listed as split-level. Additionally, the credits can count as either an educational psychology or general psychology course in the colleges of Education or Arts and Sciences. For this reason, Abernathy’s study-abroad students come from across the university.
“If you’re a psychology or educational psychology major, it replaces one of your upper-level, major electives. For some majors, it can actually count as a behavioral or social sciences elective—or it could be a general elective, depending on how many credits a student already has and what requirements have been satisfied,” he explained.
Abernathy said his favorite trip isn’t to a specific destination, but it’s more about the people traveling together. All the groups seem to learn a lot and have a wonderful experience, he said, but some groups have been particularly engaging. Because he strives to get to know each student on some level, he prefers the smaller to mid-size class sizes, but he soon will take a group of 60 to Spain.
“With every trip I go on, there is a different academic component because I want to make the trip as applicable and relevant as possible,” he said. “I enjoy it because I’m learning along with these students. I’m reading and listening to our guide at the same time they are—we’re like partners in learning.”
“I guess if there is one place that really speaks to me, it’s probably Prague—although Vienna is really awesome too,” Abernathy added.
Learn more about study abroad at https://www.international.msstate.edu/offices/study-abroad.