From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Faculty Feature: Dr. Mitzi Desselles

Aug 6, 2013 | Faculty Feature

MDesselles_photo_2From Navy J-24 sailboats to Madison Avenue to her home in Bayeaux France, Dr. Mitzi Desselles brings a depth of perspective to Tech that enriches her students, colleagues, and business partners.  Mitzi is a dynamic professor in industrial and organizational psychology who, along with her colleagues Tilman Sheets, Frank Igou, and Kevin Mahoney, have developed an excellent academic program integrated with research and real-world experiences.  I have been most impressed with the students who have come through the Ph.D. in Industrial & Organizational Psychology program under her guidance.  Mitzi’s unique personal experiences, research background, and success in the business world have enabled her and her team to bring an entrepreneurial approach to doctoral education at Tech. Mitzi is coordinator of a consulting group within our I/O Psychology doctoral program called AROS (Applied Research for Organizational Solutions).  Doctoral training in Tech’s I/O Psychology program is based on the scientist-practitioner model and is centered on the principle that professional education begins, but does not end, in the classroom.   The faculty work energetically to secure hands-on learning opportunities for graduate students, delivered through the AROS consulting group.  Clients and the community benefit from AROS’ assistance in managing and enhancing their human capital.  Funds generated by AROS projects are used to support the research and related scholarly activities of the I/O doctoral students and graduate faculty.  In its short three-year history, AROS has made great strides and is proud to include among its clients several organizations in the region as well as multinational firms.  Mitzi is particularly proud of the first cohort of PhD graduates, all of whom are employed in positions of responsibility with major multinational firms or well-respected management consulting groups.  These students and other highly qualified applicants are drawn to our Ph.D. program over other top tier universities because of the professional development opportunities they receive at Tech.  More on AROS at Mitzi’s journey to Louisiana Tech has taken her around the world.  Following graduation with a Ph.D. from LSU, Mitzi joined Purdue University where she was on assistant professor in organizational psychology.  While there, she and colleagues embarked on a series of studies into what effective leaders do.  One memorable study was conducted with skippers and crews on board J-24 sailboats at the US Naval Academy, during a specially-designed regatta.  They found that winning skippers were more likely to monitor their crews’ actions and thus be in a position to give clearer instructions and more accurate feedback. Their findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the premier scientific journal in the discipline. After a few years, Mitzi was lured out of academia by the opportunity to solve real-world business problems.  She joined an advertising agency and was quickly promoted to Vice-President of Multinational Research in their Madison Avenue headquarters.  In her corporate role, she applied her organizational psychology knowledge to help build a culture of creativity following the agency’s merger with a former rival. In 1994, Mitzi joined Mobil Oil Corporation where she held various positions, including Research Manager and Senior Consultant in the firm’s global Center of Excellence.  Following the merger with Exxon, Mitzi was a key member of the strategy team that determined how the newly-formed ExxonMobil brand would be deployed across 128 countries. In 2000, she co-founded Apter International, a research and management consultancy with offices in England and Washington, DC.  Along with her husband, British psychologist Dr. Michael Apter, Mitzi is one of the pioneers in the application of reversal theory to organizations.  Reversal theory is an internationally known approach to motivation, emotion and personality. The theory focuses on the changeability of human nature, in which people are better described as dancers, not statues.  For example, sometimes we are motivated to reach a goal; at other times we are more concerned with enjoying the experience.  This interplay between “the journey versus the destination” is just one example of the dynamics of reversal theory.  Understanding how the full range of complex dynamics play out in leaders, athletes, parents, teachers, voters, or employees, provides a unique degree of clarity into what otherwise would seem to be the inexplicable contradictions of human nature. Parapathic Emotions July 2013 v1 In 2010, Mitzi decided to return to academics and to her roots in Louisiana.  She is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences.  Her principle areas of research are team dynamics, leadership, and motivational richness.  In July 2013, she and her research team presented a series of papers at the 16th International Reversal Theory Conference in Reims, France.  One of the papers (with doctoral students Ann-Marie Rabalais and Chris Castille) investigated why people enjoy so-called “bad emotions,” such as horror or sadness, at the cinema. Turns out, that feeling “bad” makes us enjoy the movie even more.  [Freya Ruijs, a visual designer from the University of Delft, reflected her impressions about Mitzi’s presentation in this sketch.] Originally from Baton Rouge, Mitzi’s roots extend from Avoyelles Parish to 17th century Quebec and medieval Normandy, France.  Her hobbies are collecting art nouveau silver and maintaining a second home in Bayeux, France, where she continues to research her Normand ancestry. We are fortunate that Mitzi returned to her Louisiana roots and is now providing unparalleled educational experiences to our I/O Psychology doctoral students.