The love of learning has been a powerful motivator for Julie Feldman, Ph.D. From spending her formative years in Geneva, Switzerland, with her family, to revamping a desire to become a physician, Feldman, 46, finds joy in expanding her world.
Now a clinical assistant professor in psychology at the University of Arizona, Feldman’s interest in the field grew after taking a cognitive psychology course when she was an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego. Feldman became fascinated with internal mental processes such as memory, perception and attention. “I was always asking the teaching assistant more questions,” she says. When the professor, Hal Pashler, asked her, “Have you ever considered cognitive psychology as a career?” Feldman replied, “Not really.” But the next day she sent in her application, which was already late, to a Ph.D. program in cognitive psychology to the University of Washington in Seattle. “It was truly beshert,” she says, “that I got into the UW!”
Feldman came to Tucson in 1995 with her husband, Keith Dveirin, a pediatrician whom she met at a second night Hillel Seder when they were both graduate students in Seattle. The couple, who now have two teenage daughters, came here for Feldman’s post-doctoral fellowship at the UA.
“I love learning and academics,” Feldman told the AJP. “The people in my department are so darn smart. It’s a very exciting place to be.” Since 2006, she has taught freshman psychology to two UA classes of around 500 students each.
“I like to have students apply what they’ve learned,” notes Feldman. One assignment is directing students “to go out in the world and break a social norm.” For example, “in elevators we always face front, not back, and we line up in grocery stores” to pay. Students choose for themselves, but, she says, “I’ve had to tell students not to go into a grocery store wearing a ski mask.”
In addition to teaching, Feldman mentors psychology students at the UA’s Life Skills Training and Enhancement Program who work with school-age children who have emotional or behavioral problems.
She also supervises psychology interns at the UA’s Early Psychosis Intervention Center. “This is new for me,” says Feldman, who originally supervised interns focusing on cognitive behavioral therapy for issues such as depression and anxiety. “From cognitive psychology I became more interested in clinical questions,” so when Nicholas Breitborde, Ph.D., came to the UA three years ago from Yale University to direct EPICENTER, she didn’t hesitate to jump right in. The center helps individuals, ages 15 to 35, early in the course of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder with psychotic features.
Feldman says her parents encouraged her to follow whatever career path she wanted. Her mother is a school psychologist and her father holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. Feldman was born in Cambridge, Mass.; her family later moved to California, where her father worked in the business sector. When Feldman was 8 they relocated to Geneva and lived there until she was 13, then moved back to California. “It was a big transition,” she says, adding that every summer she returned to California to attend Camp Ramah in Ojai.
Feldman didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah celebration at 13 “because the only synagogue in Geneva was Orthodox and they only spoke French.”
“I’ve been studying with Amy Lederman for the past two years to become an adult Bat Mitzvah,” she says. “I feel rejuvenated after a few hours with Amy. She has a different view of life. It’s been such a pleasure to see how Judaism can be more than just ritual or going to temple. It’s learning about our ancestors and how they affect Judaism today.”
In 2010, Feldman served as co-chair of a Young Women’s Mission to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, which Lederman led. “We learned why Israel couldn’t be anywhere else,” notes Feldman, “like in Canada or somewhere. It’s about the people, Jewish history and the history of the land. I’m not sure I believe in God. Amy makes [Judaism] more about spirituality, faith and how we live our community connection to our shared history.”
Both in the Jewish community and in her chosen profession, Feldman follows her love of learning and helping to teach others. She has continued her involvement with the Federation. “Last year,” she says, “I was chair of Women’s Philanthropy.” At the UA, “I help students learning psychology know things they may have never known. I live a very fulfilling life, which is so incredibly rewarding.”