Dr. Harley says it was gratifying when her colleagues suggested she become chair after Dr. Gordon Bauer retired. “It is a good feeling as you just live your life day to day and do your best, but it’s just lovely to be respected by your colleagues.”
The late Peg Scripps Buzelli, who was heiress to the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, created the endowed chair in 1994. Buzelli was interested in mental health and dolphin research and the intersection of the two.
Professor Harley also acts as Director of the Environmental Studies program. She teaches courses in cognitive psychology and comparative cognition. Her research focuses on cognitive processes in dolphins. She is known as the ultimate collaborator who works to bring many environmental groups together working as a team.
Dr. Harley loves teaching at New College for many reasons but at the top of her list is that students will play. “By that I mean that they are open when they walk in a room. I have done some weird things over my time, since I teach about animals. I have had them do a treasure hunt to find the syllabus. There little problems they had to solve that were related to what we were going to ask dolphins to do.”
The playfulness is a two-way street. Dr. Harley came up with a unique way for her students to understand that animals have different sensory systems and that communicating with them may not always be obvious. “So, I refused to talk to them,” she says. “I used gestures and my body but the information was in smells in little cotton balls. That’s where the information was that they needed to communicate with each other. It took a while but they did eventually figure it out.”
Dr. Harley believes New College of Florida is unique in that it’s a place where you can take risks. “Our society is so focused on numbers that can be condensed into a tiny piece of paper like the GPA. At New College, students can try something and it doesn’t change the rest of their lives. They can discover what they are great at or give themselves time to learn something without having to carry a big burden for years. That is what life should be like, certainly for 18-22 years old. They should be allowed to discover their lives.”
She points to the privileged feeling she has working with New College students. “Mike Michalson (former New College President) once thanked people for sending their children to New College. It’s a big transition moment in their lives. That is a gift and a privileged moment.”