FirstGen@ND: Daniel Lapsley, Professor of Psychology and ACE Collegiate Professor

Author: Shannon Rooney

Notre Dame Professor of Psychology Daniel Lapsley uses the word “naive” to describe himself as a young student approaching his college years. He grew up with five siblings near Pittsburgh. His father was a steel worker and his mother was a homemaker. Neither of Lapsley’s parents had been to college, but he knew he wanted to go. 

Lapsley also knew he wanted to be a psychology major. His love of the field began in seventh grade when he happened to read a biography of Sigmund Freud. He became fascinated and, when it came time to research colleges, Lapsley looked through a listing of colleges to find one where he could be a psychology major. 

“I was so naive, I didn’t know that I could probably be a psychology major anywhere,” he laughs. “I also didn’t know that I was supposed to apply to a lot of schools–and then visit them!” Lapsley chose Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which was about 60 miles away from home. 

“It seemed really big to me,” he says, “but I really relished my time there. I think I got a good education.”

His experience there set him up for success in the field of psychology. 


Lapsley went on to obtain a Ph.D. and over the years his teaching and research career has taken him from Notre Dame to Ball State University to Brandon University in Canada, and back to Notre Dame, where he landed in 2006 in the psychology department and teaches in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. 

His research focuses on topics in adolescent social cognitive and personality development, including work on adolescent invulnerability and risk behavior, narcissism, separation-individuation, self, ego and identity development, and college adjustment.

He also studies the moral dimensions of personality and other topics in moral psychology, and has written on moral identity and moral and character education. 

Lapsley is a proud member of the Building Bridges Mentoring Program on campus. This program connects students of color with faculty mentors across the University, providing them with mentorship and connection in the departments students wish to explore academically.

Lapsley says the initiative is indicative of the kinds of resources Notre Dame strives to provide for students of color and first-generation students.

“There’s an intentional effort,” he says, “to connect students to faculty, to staff, and with the people who make up their residence halls.”

Students may be intimidated at the prospect of reaching out to faculty themselves but, he assures, “faculty are available and looking for them to do that.”

He says it’s a “distinctive mark of excellence here at Notre Dame” that faculty take such an interest in students, not just on the academic side of things, but in students’ wellbeing. 

Asked to offer advice to first-generation students, he encourages students to look into all their options and find a place that not only meets their needs, but that also feels right. 

“Look to a range of schools and find out if they're going to have your major. And find a school where you feel at home—that it could be a small private school; it could be a state university. I think a lot of things work into that decision about where to apply—you know, family finances, availability of aid, and other things,” says Lapsley. 

Watch the video above to learn more about Lapsley and the Notre Dame experience.

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