‘Doing Great Things in a Quiet Way’: Graduate student fellowship honors psychology professor

Grant Dahlstrom with Donald Baucom’s wife, Linda, and 3-year-old son, Brian.

In a distinguished 40-year career at UNC, W. Grant Dahlstrom, Kenan Professor of Psychology, did great things in a quiet way. A graduate fellowship honoring Dahlstrom is now providing support for a clinical psychology student.

“Grant’s slogan could have been just that: ‘doing great things in a quiet way,’” said Donald Baucom, Richard Lee Simpson Distinguished Professor of Psychology, who delivered a eulogy for Dahlstrom after his death in 2006.

Known as the leading authority on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) — still considered the “industry standard” in personality tests — Dahlstrom was a scientist of the highest order. But his humble demeanor and his sincere interest in his students belied his greatness as a scholar.

“I met him when I was a college freshman in 1967 and I was looking for a work study job,” Baucom said. “Grant mentioned that he and his wife and a colleague, George Welsh, were working on a book, and if I was interested, he’d be honored to have me work with him. He’d be honored for me, a freshman from a small town in North Carolina to work with him.”

Dahlstrom later served as chair of Baucom’s doctoral dissertation committee. The two became colleagues when Baucom returned to UNC to join the faculty in 1980. Baucom and his family spent many evenings with Dahlstrom and his wife Leona, who assisted Dahlstrom in his work as he suffered from a severe visual impairment.

“At the time he retired, I believe he had supervised more doctoral dissertations than anyone else in the department,” Baucom said.

Lucy Daniels is a leading contributor to the Dahlstrom Graduate Student Fellowship.

One of Dahlstrom’s more than 60 doctoral dissertation supervisees was Lucy Daniels, a clinical psychologist in Raleigh and founder of the Lucy Daniels Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children live emotionally healthy lives.

“He presented things in an interesting way, with a quiet manner that made you want to listen,” Daniels recalled. “He had a great reputation as a scholar and was academically rigorous and demanding, but he was also very interested in his students as people.”

Daniels, a leading contributor to the Dahlstrom Graduate Fellowship, completed her doctorate when she was in her 40s and the mother of four.

“I understand that graduate students have lives outside the classroom and the research lab,” Daniels said. “I hope that this fellowship will provide students with the funding they need to achieve their academic goals while still being able to support themselves and their families.”

With more than 200 former students, colleagues and friends contributing to the fund, the Dahlstrom Graduate Fellowship’s market value was more than $327,000 as of June 30, with an estimated annual payout of nearly $19,000.

Mitch Prinstein, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor and director of clinical psychology, said the Dahlstrom Graduate Fellowship will help the department attract outstanding students.

“It is very difficult to offer financial packages to students that allow us to remain competitive,” Prinstein said. “The Dahlstrom fund allows us to make a generous offer to a highly promising student to work exclusively on their research without needing to split their efforts on other tasks like a teaching assistantship.”

The Dahlstrom Fellowship was awarded for the first time this fall to Christopher Sheppard, a first-year clinical psychology graduate student who will work with Prinstein. Before coming to UNC, Sheppard was a study coordinator in the child and adolescent mood program at Emory University. He earned his undergraduate degree with distinction in psychology from Duke University in 2010.

“One of the things I learned from Grant is that if you want to be both happy and successful, surround yourself with good people,” Baucom said. “And he did that. He had excellent colleagues and students flock to him.”

Now the new fellowship will attract even more good people to UNC to honor Dahlstrom’s legacy.”

The department of psychology is still raising money for the Dahlstrom Fellowship, with the goal of reaching $500,000, the new minimum endowment amount for a graduate student fellowship. At this level, the fellowship would provide an annual stipend of about $25,000, which is competitive with peer institutions. Anyone interested in contributing may contact Kelleigh Smith, associate director of capital gifts at the Arts and Sciences Foundation, kelleigh.smith@unc.edu or (919) 843-4454.

[ By Jim Magaw ’89, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine ]