Karen Kirkendall

Meet Karen Kirkendall
Associate Professor,
Liberal Studies and
Individual Option



  • B.A. Psychology: Florida State University
  • M.S. Developmental Psychology: Florida State University
  • Ph.D. Experimental Psychology, conc. Developmental Psychology: University of Cincinnati


  • In graduate school I worked with children with developmentaldisabilities at a children’s hospital at the University of Cincinnati. I came to UIS right after graduate school and have been here for 23 years. First, I was a faculty member in the Psychology program and I recently switched to Individual Option and Liberal Studies so I could work with graduate students again.
  • In the community, I work with children who have autism and other kinds of disabilities, but mostly autism and Asperger’s.
  • I am an avid tennis player and the one mental health break I get a couple times a week is I slam a tennis ball around a bit.

Research interests:

  • Cognitive growth and cognitive development in children. I also have another area of research that A quote by Dr. Karen Kirkendall, "I've been here for 23 years and I've never had more than forty students in a class.  We are able to know every one of our students."I do on pedagogy and online education as well as instructional methods on teaching developmental psychology. Even more recently, I have some scholarship that I’ve done on higher education, trends in higher education, honor’s programs, and reaccredidation.

Learning philosophy:

  • Based on the cognitive data that an adult’s attention span is no more than 15 minutes, I have a rule for myself that I don’t talk for more than five, seven, or eight minutes at a time. Then I turn the question to the students and ask them to engage in the conversation. Another thing I do to keep students engaged is to give them the opportunity to solve the problem themselves—either by putting them on their laptops to look something up or putting them in small groups to work out a problem.

Community connections:

  • I am one of the leading resources in the central Illinois area for families of children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. I do a lot of training at schools, sometimes at counseling centers, and other types of agencies where they’re trying to learn about autism and, now, Asperger’s and what that means for a family, a school, and a counseling situation. A parent and I have developed a support group for families whose children have Asperger’s syndrome. We meet every month and we have people come from as far away as Chicago, Peoria, downstate, and even Iowa because there are so few support groups. I now not only have families coming, but I now have a small group of young men with Asperger’s coming to the meetings to talk with each other, to talk with me, and to talk with the other families.

Advice for prospective students:

  • Prospective students need to look for institutions that are going to fit what they want to do in life. If they want to go to law school, medical school, or if they want to go into graduate education or professional education, they need to find programs and institutions that can give them the kinds of experiences they’re going to need. Students here have the chance for a close connection with faculty so they can get the opportunity to work on research.

Best thing about UIS:

  • The pure fact that Ph.D.s and our faculty are in the classrooms. I’ve been here for 23 years and I’ve never had more than forty students in a class. We are able to know every one of our students. By the third week of the semester, I know each of my students and I know their faces and I know their names. I try to develop a relationship where they feel comfortable coming to see me if they have issues and they feel comfortable speaking out in class. We are lucky to be able to retain that.