Jim Olson
Jim Olson is a founding faculty member at UTPB.

“Please call me Jim.” That’s how Dr. Jim Olson, Professor of Psychology, greets students at the beginning of the semester.  

The students who walk into his classroom or log into their course the first day may not know Jim is a founding faculty member of UT Permian Basin, one of the first and most recognizable faces on campus. They may not know that he served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for ten years, and a department chair for many more. They may be unaware that their professor is one of the most renowned teachers in Texas, having been named a Piper Professor in 2011 and a recipient of the UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award the following year. And they certainly may not know about his extraordinary research contributions, authoring seven books and many more academic articles and chapters which have made a global impact in the field of Psychology.  

jim_olson_1.jpgStudents may not know how fortunate they are to have Jim Olson as their professor. But what they do know, after the first day, is that their professor cares about them. 

In Eighty Steps: Tales on College Teaching (2023), which I co-edited with Jim, he talks about how he addresses students on the first day of class. “It’s important to me to learn and use [students’] preferred names” Jim said (89). By using a mnemonic strategy to connect faces with names, Jim not only learns their preferred names but also establishes a welcoming environment for his students, even in online learning, where Jim was a pioneer. “The bottom line,” Jim concludes, “is that every time a student’s name is used, it signifies welcoming and inclusiveness – and that the instructor cares” (90). 

It's this kind of intentionality and consideration for people’s needs that has made Jim a hero and mentor to students and colleagues alike. In 2019, President Woodley created the Jim Olson Award, which recognizes a faculty member who represents the values of UTPB. Those of us who have won this award in the years afterwards – Dr. Bill Fannin, Dr. Milka Montes, Dr. Roland Spickermann, and me – feel deeply honored to follow in the footsteps of such an extraordinary teacher and friend. 

Jim is famously cool. Though he has spent the last fifty years in the Permian Basin, he is still quintessentially the surfer kid from his native state of California, riding the waves as they come, taking everything in stride. One might think that’s just Jim’s personality, or the result of working at a single university for fifty years. After all, he’s seen a lot of changes over the years at UTPB. 

But it’s more than that. Jim’s calm disposition is rooted in a deep humility and empathy for others. He has gotten over himself, a quality which endears him to thousands of students and colleagues whose lives are brighter and better because they encountered a professor named Dr. Jim Olson. 

But please, call him Jim.