Professor and son bond over shared love of Psychology

Photo by Ani Somers

By Emily Davis

Dr. Erik Nilsen began his professional teaching career at Lewis & Clark in the fall of 1991 after graduating with a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan. His passion for the inner workings of the mind and his interest in computer science led him to a newly formed area of psychology: Human Computer Interaction.

Dr. Nilsen has enjoyed a prolific teaching career over the last twenty-six years. Today he enjoys an interesting dynamic that most professors don’t get to have with their students: his youngest son, Ryan Nilsen ’19, transferred to LC last year and is majoring in psychology. However, Ryan Nilsen was interested in psychology long before he enrolled at LC.

“I’ve always kind of been exposed to it because my dad is a professor of psychology, and being exposed to it from him definitely got me interested in it from a young age,” Ryan Nilsen said. “I’m just interested in how humans think. I’ve also always been a very social person, and so I like to take a scientific approach to that.”

On campus, Dr. and Ryan Nilsen enjoy the occasional lunch together, work on research and even had a class together during Ryan Nilsen’s first semester.

“(The class) was very cool, it was definitely an experience I feel lucky to have had,” Ryan Nilsen said. “It was very motivating, I studied harder in his class than any class I’ve studied for before.”

Dr. Nilsen shares the same sentiments about having his son in one of his classes.

“I really enjoyed it, we had a great time,” Dr. Nilsen said. “ We had just been talking about music and memory, and so at one point I spontaneously asked him to help lead a round for this breath chant that he taught me from a camp he went to when he was a high schooler, and so it’s the only time I’ve taught a song with a student.”

This strong father-son bond extends outside of an academic setting. They both enjoy ceramics, fishing and singing. They also enjoy getting outside together; just two weeks ago they co-led a College Outdoors program that took students crabbing on the Oregon coast.

“Ryan enjoys crabbing, I’ve taken him and my other kids to do that since they were three years old,” Dr. Nilsen said. “It was really fun to get to do that together, to share something that been our family passion with other LC students. We caught 24 crabs and had this huge seafood feast, we cooked them all up and ate them right on the beach. It was awesome.”

Dr. and Ryan Nilsen have always shared a strong connection and are happy that they have been able to strengthen their relationship while at LC.

“It’s definitely a space where we’ve been able to develop our relationship and get to know each other more,” Ryan Nilsen said. “I would say we have gotten closer.”

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