A passion for making a difference led to psychology
Steve Reznick’s sterling record of service
In 1969, three weeks before he came to Carolina as a
first-year student, Steve Reznick attended Woodstock. More than four decades
later, he can still say with a straight face, “I went for the music.”
Music, in his hometown of Winston-Salem, was the
family business. His father built Reznick’s Records into a downtown institution
and his mother operated a branch in a shopping center.
Even though he had helped in the store since he was a small
boy, Reznick knew that he would never be coming back to it. His father told him
he would not allow it.
“I remember him telling me, ‘I will burn down the store
before I let you come back and take it over,’” Reznick said. “The mall had
opened and my father saw the handwriting on the wall for the future of
independent retail stores.”
Instead, Reznick thought he might want to study to become a
professor when he was an undergraduate at UNC in the lab of Vincent LoLordo, a
psychology professor studying operant behavior in pigeons.
At the time, he was also taking note of the life of graduate
students who worked in the lab with him. “What? They actually pay you to get a
degree?” he asked in disbelief.
A nose for service
On his faculty homepage in the psychology department,
Reznick details the professional path he took from graduation in 1973 to
returning to Carolina in 1998.
“I came back to Chapel Hill for my 25th reunion and just
stayed,” Reznick likes to tell friends.
But the truth is, no matter where his career took him –
from Wake Forest University where he received his master’s degree, to the
University of Colorado where he got his Ph.D., or to Harvard University to
conduct his dissertation on infant categorization and language, or to Yale as
an assistant and associate professor – Chapel Hill had always been home.
He is a leading research scientist in the field of infant
cognitive development, particularly in the area of short-term working memory.
At Carolina, he has collaborated with fellow scientists and
clinicians to develop a system for parents to watch for and record patterns of
behavior in their babies that could be early warning signs for autism. Early
diagnosis, Reznick said, allows for experimenting with treatments for early intervention.
He recently received a three-year grant of more than $400,000 from the Autism
Speaks Foundation to continue improving the system.
Even though Reznick has his hands full with research and
teaching duties, whenever someone asks him to do something, he has an
unshakeable habit of saying yes.
That’s what happened in 1999, when psychology department
chair Peter Ornstein asked him to serve as director of the Developmental
Psychology Program. Or recently, when he launched Child Development Perspectives,
the newest journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.
As a member of the Faculty Athletics Committee, Reznick
invested hundreds of hours leading the task force that developed a
comprehensive priority registration process that addressed scheduling conflicts
for various groups including student-athletes, student teachers, Robertson
He joined the advisory board of the Faculty-Staff Recreation
Association, known as The Farm, and has served as its president for seven of
the 12 years he has been a member. Benjamin Allred, the director of The Farm,
said Reznick was the driving force behind recent efforts to replace a rundown
farmhouse with a modern building and to update the pool area.
Membership dues were not raised to make the improvements,
something Reznick takes as much pride in as he does in the improvements
themselves. He likes to joke (with a hint of seriousness) that if Kiplinger’s
Magazine ever compiled a list of best values for recreation clubs, The Farm would
be a candidate for the cover.
“We don’t do fancy,” Reznick said. “People who want a
country club look and feel should go someplace else. People who want a fun,
affordable place to stay in shape with their families should join The Farm.”
In addition, he serves as associate dean for first-year
seminars and academic experiences and co-chairs with admissions director
Stephen Farmer the Enrollment Excellence Implementation Committee.
And Reznick took it upon himself to develop a 30-minute
overview of the undergraduate curriculum during CTOPS orientation for new
students and parents.
It is that enduring spirit of activism and sense of
full-scale engagement with campus life that led Ornstein and others to nominate
Reznick for a 2010 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.
In his nomination letter, Ornstein
wrote, “In my 35 years as a member of the Carolina faculty I have never met
another colleague whose commitment to university service comes close to
matching that of
Saying yes to Carolina
There is a danger in trying to do too much, he knows, and he
tries to limit his service to only things that he is passionate about. The
problem is that there is very little that happens at Carolina that is he not
passionate about – now more than ever.
His nephew is starting his junior year here and Reznick
helped his daughter move into her sorority house for the start of her sophomore
year. He still remembers what it was like when he was in their shoes and thinks
about what he needed to hear when he first came here 41 years ago.
“I think of myself as a meliorist,” Reznick said. “I believe
the world can be a better place, and with that belief comes an obligation to do
what I can to make it better.”
The more he sees, the more he develops creative ideas to
make something that is already good become even better. Like
Last Thursday, as the CTOPS orientation leaders ran off the
stage at the Great Hall after singing the alma mater, parents and students
heard each one smacking high fives with a bearded man sitting in the front row.
It was Reznick, of course, getting pumped up to take the
stage to tell students all that Carolina has to offer – and remind them
to go after every opportunity they can.