From golf to psychology: a look at Don Christensen

Photo by Duwan Irons
Caption: Psychology professor Don Christensen, originally an engineering student, became fascinated with psychology early on during his time enrolled in college. He decided to pursue a psychology degree after an engineering professor advised his class to pursue a career in what they love.

By Ilona Kinnear

When Don Christensen was starting out as an undergraduate at Stanford on a golf scholarship, he believed he was going to be an engineer. “I tended to do well in the early math and science classes that I took in high school. When I got to college, I figured that engineering was a good extension of those abilities.”

While he was taking his prerequisites in engineering, he interspersed them with classes that were less strenuous. Christensen found he had a passing interest in psychology, “The first psychology class that captured my interest was General Psychology. The professor had a great sense of humor and had me rolling in the aisles each day.”

Soon, he found that the engineering courses were proving difficult, he was getting B’s and he felt like he should be able to do better than that. One of his engineering professors told the class that they need to do what they love. This is what ultimately steered him away from engineering. He knew that his heart and soul wasn’t entirely into it. Christensen discovered his true passion lied in his psychology classes, “It’s hard to say what about psychology captured me, other than I just found it interesting and fascinating.”

At the end of his sophomore year, he switched his major to psychology, not entirely knowing what he would do with it. His parents were disappointed that he was giving up a solid career and a solid paycheck in order to pursue a degree in psychology, but Christensen was determined.

After finishing undergraduate school, Christensen felt burnt out of golfing. “When I finished college, I became disillusioned with golf. I spent years where I never took more than a week off at a time.” He decided to take a year off and find a job.

After his year off, he started graduate college at the University of Washington studying psychology. He chose the UW because, for one, it was close to where he lived, growing up in Washington, and because they offered a minor in sports psychology.

Other than teaching psychology classes at SCC, he also does mental training work with athletes. He teaches athletes mental skills that help them control the psychological side of their abilities. It is like learning how to get in “the zone” or “This space where people feel calm and relaxed yet focused and energized,” said Christensen.  

His favorite part about being a teacher is when he inspires his students the same way his psychology professors “lit a fire” in him to pursue psychology. One example is of a student. Christensen shows “a video in my psych 100 class of a researcher who does really cool work with babies. She puts on magic shows for them, and based on how they respond, she can tell that they have a sense of the impossible, of what shouldn’t be able to happen. I got a call from a student, she had gone on to grad school and was studying with that researcher. And I went, ‘That’s so cool. I wish I was doing that’.” He loves to spark his student’s interests and see them come back time and time again to continue to take his classes.