In Memory

~ Jody Esper ~

Reflections by Her Students

Dr. Esper was so down to earth!  She was funny and had this great sense of humor.  She always had an interesting story or example to give.  She always tried to make things relatively easy for her students--solving problems quickly, being readily available, etc.  It made the student's stressful life so much easier!  She really did touch so many lives, and she will never be forgotten!

Gina Hoover, ‘02


I did not have class with or talk to Dr. Esper at all during my career here, which I feel was a shame.  I was only around her once at one of the picnics.  But just from spending that little time with her, I got a glimpse at what a light-hearted, funny, and intelligent person she was.  It seems to me that she didn't want to take life too seriously, that she would rather enjoy it, and help others enjoy it too.  It is always nice having someone like that around, especially for me, because I am very uptight and serious.  Even though, I will never feel the true impact of the loss of her, she made an impact on my outlook on life for that one time I met her.  I was also never aware before now of the contributions she made on campus to provide services to young women who tragically fall victim to sexual crimes.  I appreciate her work with that being a woman myself, and also being an educated person fighting for equality and safety for all.  Hopefully all of us who are aware of her endeavors will strive to keep them flourishing, and build off of what she has started.

Stephanie Peterson


When I arrived on Valpo's campus in the fall of 1990, I really didn't have any direction in terms of my focus of study.  I took Gen Psych as a way to fulfill the science requirement (I believe) in my second semester of my freshman year.  walked into her classroom... the lecture room in LeBien, and sat down in one of the dozens of swivel chairs.  No sooner had I arrived that morning than I saw a dog enter the classroom, trot down to the front of the room, jump up on the chair near the front and sit.

Jody came down the stairs a bit more slowly ... and when she reached the front of the room, she pet the dog.  After a few moments' preparation, she addressed the students and introduced not only herself, but also Skippy...and it was at this moment that I decided I wanted to be a Psych Major.

My second brief thing is a memory that we never called her Professor Esper.  It was always just easier to call her ProfEsper.

Anyways, I am greatly saddened to learn of our loss of such a great person and wonderful teacher.  You aren't kidding when you say that she touched the lives of countless students.  I know... because I'm one of them and I'll never forget her.

Jeff Gordon, VU '94, VUSL '98


Though I'll be in Atlanta on Oct. 12 attending a conference of the International Dyslexia Association, and will be unable to attend the Alumni Luncheon held in her honor, I am very saddened by her passing.

 I would like her friends and family to know that I will be remembering her as a very kind person, who was down-to-earth with her students while encouraging them to reach for greater heights. Dr. Esper was helpful to me at a time when few others were willing to take the time, and her involvement in my life helped to change the course of it so much for the better. Dr. Esper used her position of influence to seek justice, demonstrating an increasingly rare combination of courage and principles. I hope that I am able to live up to that example, and I am striving to cultivate such a combination in myself.

That she has passed leaves me knowing that all of us are ever-so-slightly more alone in the world.

Jon W. Fiebelkorn, BA '94, M.A.A.B.S. '98


Dr. Esper (I never could get used to calling her Jody, even though everybody else did.  I held her in high regard and to me, referring to her by her first name didn’t show her the respect I intended.)

I came to V.U. in the middle of a wretched divorce.  I had two teenage children and all my relatives were in Canada.  Jody was my advisor.  What a fortunate assignment that was.  She was approachable, easy to talk to, and very insightful.  She encouraged me and helped me to see that although I really had been through hell, life was better now; I could make it on my own.  I could make a new life for myself as a professional person. 

Jody invited me to be a teaching assistant for one of the Psychology Lab classes.  To think that she believed that I could handle that gave me a real boost of confidence.  Of course, I was a nervous wreck but she seemed to have confidence in me. 

I also worked with her on one of her research projects.  She did so much for so many people, all the time.  She always made time for students when they needed her, no matter what.

Jody wrote letters of recommendation for me when I applied to graduate schools and the law school.  She apparently explained to someone at one of the grad schools that, although I didn’t always test well, I really knew the material; that while I put forth the effort, it didn’t always translate to the highest grade in the class.  When I learned that Jody had taken the trouble to explain that, I was touched by her honesty and genuine concern.  There aren’t many people who take that extra step, but Jody was one who did. 

One of the most memorable experiences I had with Jody involved my son, Gregory, who was a senior in high school at the time.  Jody called while I was outside; my son answered the call and tried to take a message.  When Jody learned that he was inside while I was outside shoveling the driveway she blew her top.  She asked Gregory “what the hell are you doing in the house while your mother is outside shoveling?”  They had never met, so Gregory was awestruck by this outspoken woman on the other end of the telephone.  Jody told him to get his butt out there and finish the job and have me come in and call her.  Naturally, Gregory did just that; puzzled by what had just transpired.  To my surprise, out he came to finish the shoveling.  I was delighted.  He said “some woman named Jody Esper wants you to call her back.  You’d better do it now!”  He never explained further.  I learned of their conversation from Jody later; we had a good laugh.  Although she didn’t have children of her own, she had a way of commanding their respect.  I’ve often thought that had I met Jody earlier in my life she would have helped to make me a much more effective parent.  I still chuckle at the memory of that conversation. 

I wanted to relate that story at Jody’s memorial service, but I was so emotional I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it. 

I recently found an email message from Jody. We were going to get together for lunch.  It saddens me that we never had the opportunity to do that.  I’m so sorry she’s gone.  I’m fortunate to have known her and to have been one of her students.  She was a remarkable professor, a remarkable woman - the kind of person we should all aspire to.  Thank you, Dr. Esper, for being my friend.

Lea Shelemey


I have many wonderful memories of Dr. Jody Esper.  She was one of my favorite professors at VU because she took the time to care about students on an individual basis.  I can’t recall all the times I spent with her chatting on the Dickmeyer balcony during one of her smoke breaks, in the computer lab, or in her office.  I worked most closely with her when I was a psych lab TA and when I did research with her and two other senior psych majors.  I still have a few photos of us at the VU research symposium.  They remind me of how much I learned while working on the project and how enjoyable it was working with Dr. Esper.  Our research topic, “Attributions Regarding Interpersonal Violence in Same-Sexed and Opposite-Sexed Roommates Versus Couples,” was something very important to Dr. Esper and I was proud to have worked on it with her.  When I was applying to graduate schools, Dr. Esper wrote recommendations for me, something that she was more than willing to do; she always encouraged students to pursue further education.  When I think of my time at VU and the psychology department, I always remember Dr. Esper, and how she served as a role model in her knowledge, expertise, friendship and of course, her adorable white rats.  I will miss her very much.

After graduating from VU, I earned my MS in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) from Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management in 2001.  I am currently living in the Detroit Metro Area with my husband, Josh, and working in HRM at General Motors Corporation.

Elizabeth Tull Wright ‘99


I am sorry that I cannot attend the Psychology reception, I have my own wedding on that Saturday.  Actually, I was hoping that Dr. Esper could have attended because she was such a mentor to me.  I hope that you share my thoughts on her even though I will not be there and give her family my blessings.  Thank you for complying the thoughts of students.  I hope that you and the other professors are doing well despite this terrible loss.  My thoughts are below.I met Dr. Esper in the psychology of women class that was luckily being held in one of the semesters of my junior year.  At that time it was offered only every two years.  I remember that she inspired us to learn about women's rights, the different and subtle ways media portrayed women as objects and its ramifications on violence, and the emotional and communication differences between the sexes.  Not only did she motivate us to learn, I would like to think that most of us carried this knowledge with us into other areas of our lives (not just school) because what we learned and of course how we learned it made it so practical.

I also had Jody for cognitive psychology.  The book for this class was a difficult read but Dr. Esper made us understand the intricacies of memory with her useful lectures.  She transformed the jargon in the textbook into her own and better way of teaching cognition.  Being a cognitive psychologist probably helped a little too---but of course she was phenomenal--I have a friend who took this class as well and still talks about it in such a great light and she was a communications major!  So Jody touched a lot of people even beyond the psychology students. 

She was always available to talk to when you needed to unwind some thoughts or troubles-- I know that she cared about her students as much as her work. She was our supervisor for the teaching assistants when they existed in 1998.  Jody gave me a chance to teach the introductory lab class as an undergraduate myself.  Even though this experience challenged me sometimes too much, she never gave up on me and the ability to teach the course.  I am certain that she mentored a lot of the TA's because I do not think that any of us had teaching experience.  But Jody was the type of person to give you those chances and challenges--to broaden your horizons and think better of yourself because you accomplished those feats.

I am glad to of known Jody and that she touched my life so. I am also happy that I could share this with her family and the psychology department so that her memory lives on.


Jennifer Falbo, BS in Psychology, Valparaiso University
MA Candidate in Clinical Psychology
Teen Outreach Mentor, Schaumburg YMCA
APAGS Ambassador, APA Convention 2002


“Do we get the buns in here or outside?”  Those were my first words to Dr. Esper.  I made this great remark at the first psych picnic I attended.  Dr. Esper’s response was a hardy chuckle and in her raspy voice she said, “yes, in there,” and she pointed down a hall in Dickmeyer.  She then walked away laughing.  We all did really.  I am telling this story because it shows the kind of person Dr. Esper was.  She could laugh and joke around with the best of us.  For instance her mini quizzes.  The first one I took was “what color is my hair…the box says sable brown.”  Her mini quizzes were so fun and I am not embarrassed to admit that I sometimes needed those extra points for a boost.

I’ll never forget a day in her lecture for Human Cognition when I could not stop laughing.  I have a short attention span and entertained myself with little pictures and notes between my neighbor in class (who also happened to be my best friend).  That particular day I was drawing different Chicken McNugget Characters.  When Lori asked me what I was drawing I whispered Chicken McNuggets.  Needless to say we could not stop laughing.  Dr. Esper just kept lecturing through our giggles and snorts.  When she finally did ask what we were laughing at (by now I was crying) we just said nothing and shut-up as best as possible.  (We were almost bouncing out of our chairs by now, but we were quiet).  So, the end of the class nears and she makes an announcement that the students not in the lab can leave because she wants to talk to the lab students.  I blurt out, “why do we have to stay?”  She replies, “because we have to discuss an email I sent out.”  “I got the email,” I say.  “Oh really, what is it about.”  So I tell her and she looks at me with a little grin and says, “well Rocchi, I guess you can leave.  But the rest of you have to stay.”  So being who I am, I packed my stuff up and left.  When my friends found me after they left class I was sitting on the steps outside of the building laughing so hard I could not walk.  The next day when I saw Dr. Esper for an advising session she mentioned my performance in her class and just nonchalantly mentioned that I needed help.  And then she laughed.  I had disrupted her class (once again) and she just passed it off with a laugh.

One of the last times I saw Dr. Esper was at The Viking ChiliBowl sometime during the last school year.  By that time we knew she was pretty sick.  She came over to our table (as she often did when I saw her at various Valpo restaurants) and asked how we were, what I was up to (I graduated the year before) and what was new.  All the time she called me Rocchi.  I figured she would have forgotten me although I did make a mark as class clown.  When I asked her how she was she said ok, but I’ll be much better when I get some greasy ChiliBowl breakfast!  I think other that was the last time I spoke with Dr. Esper.  I wish I had visited a few more times but now I am glad that my last conversation was a fun one.  It showed to me that Dr. Esper was more than just a challenging professor but also someone I could call a friend.

Sarah Rocchi,  2001


I was saddened to hear of Jody's passing.  Unfortunately I will be unable to attend homecoming this year.  I wanted to pass on my most memorable experience with Dr. Esper as an undergrad.

In my final semester at VU I found myself in the violent end of an abusive relationship.  Everyone around me was urging me to drop out and finish my degree at a later time.  I was less than 2 months from graduation and wasn't sure I could make it.  I was in Dr. Esper's Cognitive class and lab at the time.  It was a conversation with her that kept me strong and going.  Had it not been for her understanding, encouragement, and belief in me, academically as well as emotionally, I would not have completed my coursework or received me degree.  Since then I have become a strong advocate against domestic violence and sexual assault myself.  It was her influence in those last 2 months that created an entirely new, and stronger perspect of life in me. Please thank her family for me.

Mollie A. Schmelzer, class of Dec 98


Dr. Esper has had a tremendous impact on both my personal and professional life.  I was one of her research assistants during my junior and senior years of undergrad at Valpo.  The research involved attribution of blame in domestic violence situations, so Dr. Esper urged me to volunteer and then complete my psychology internship at The Caring Place.  I did, and through my work at the shelter, I became interested in the legal system.  I stayed at Valpo and received my law degree in May 2002.  I took the Indiana Bar Exam, and I am awaiting my results.  I wanted to work in the area of criminal law, so I began applying at various prosecutor's offices throughout the state.  I am now working at the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office in Lafayette.  I am the trial deputy for all domestic violence cases (D Felony and below) that are filed with our office.  I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for Dr. Esper, and I am very grateful to have had her influence and support while I was an undergraduate student. 

Heather Vander Tuuk


I took only one class with Dr. Esper, Introduction to Psychology, but it made quite an impression.  At that time (the second semester of my freshman year at VU), I was an "exploratory" major, and I was certainly exploring a variety of different disciplines--French, humanities, math, philosophy ... and of course, psychology. Like many psychology students, I had some vague notions of psychology as a possible career that would allow me to "help people."  Dr. Esper's class introduced me to psychology as a science, and provided my first exposure to some of the topics that continue to fascinate me today.  Dr. Esper's teaching style provided part of the fascination--beyond a technical mastery of the subject matter, she conveyed a tremendous enthusiasm that made psychology immediately compelling.  Her teaching style reminds me of a recent column by Philip Zimbardo, in which he said that his only goal in teaching undergraduates has been to share all of the interesting knowledge that psychology has produced, to show his students why he finds the subject so fascinating.  Dr. Esper's love for her subject led me on toward further exploration--more psychology classes, a major, and ultimately a career in psychology.

In addition to her enthusiasm, Dr. Esper's teaching was exceptional because of her ability to make her subject come alive.  Her lectures were peppered with attention-grabbing examples, whether of psychological disorders, cognitive-processing phenomena, or unusual experiences in sensation and perception.  Her examples could relate to everyday life, or to strange and extreme situations; she related each with the same type of intriguing detail.  One other memorable thing about her classes, of course, was that they were attended by her best pupil, Skippy.  Skippy sat attentively in the front row, and occasionally served as a class example for topics such as behaviorism.  I remember Dr. Esper's comment that "one of the benefits of being a psychologist is that you have a well-behaved

One additional memory is of an event that took place one or two semesters after the introductory class.  At that time, I was beginning to seriously consider a major in psychology, and needed Dr. Esper's signature (she was chair of the department then) on some course registration paperwork.  I knocked and stuck my head into her office in Moody Labs, saying "I don't know if you remember me, but ... ".  She cut me off, immediately saying, "I remember you, Paul," and said she was glad that I was taking further courses in psychology.  This attention to her students was particularly remarkable given the size of the single class I had taken with her--it was held in the large classroom in Urschel Hall, and the room had been packed full.

It's hard to believe, but it has already been more than ten years since that first psychology class.  I received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Temple University in 2000, and I now do some teaching myself--statistics and research methods for Psy.D. students at the University of Denver.  I hope that I bring to my own classes the same level of excitement, high quality teaching, and attention to students that Dr. Esper brought to hers.

Best wishes to the department, and to Dr. Esper's family.

Paul Cook ('94)
Denver, Colorado


First, and I'm sure many people mentioned this, was Jody bringing her dog to lecture.  I always figured that someone who had trained a dog that well to sit quietly during the lecture must be a good teacher.

Second, and more lasting, was Jody's approach to bringing the real world into the classroom.  She consistently wove interesting personal experiences into the lecture, making them come alive for students such as myself who had no experience in the realm of psychology.  When it came time for me to choose a career path, I felt strongly that I needed more real world experience before I could be an effective teacher.  I worked as a consultant for five years, and am now a professor.  I feel that bringing this experience into the classroom allows me to engage the students more effectively, and I thank Jody for this insight.  I wish I had taken the opportunity to tell her this.

Sandy Fisher


I am deeply saddened to hear about Dr. Esper's death. She was a wonderful woman. In general, Dr. Esper was always there for her students. Even if she had things to do and was in a hurry, she always took time to talk to her students. She was a great role model for me from the first day that I came to Valpo. She encouraged me to continue in the helping profession. I went from being on Probation my freshman year to graduating early and attending graduate school. She encouraged me every step of the way. she was always one of my favorite Psychology professors. She helped me choose a graduate school and now I am at the end of my program. In May, I will complete my program and receive my Masters in Counseling. I am also preparing to take my LPC exam next month. Without Dr. Esper's encouragement and just being who she was, I don't think I would be where I am today. She was truly an inspiration. She will always be loved and missed. The one thing that I remember most about her classes was the pop attendance quizzes. As long as you were there you would pass even if you guessed the wrong answer. She always wanted to reward those of us who attended classes.  She was a wonderful woman.

Melissa Bard, Class of 2000


Dr. Esper really saved me.  As a freshman I was an engineering major, but I really wanted to do something else and to prepare myself for entering seminary.  I switched majors my first semester from engineering to psychology.  One day, I had an exit interview with the engineering department.  It was not very good at all.  I was very scared to see what the Chair of the Psychology department would do to me.  Dr. Esper welcomed me right away.  After she signed my major change form and sent me to Dr. Vernon, I felt so much better.  And to this day I feel I made a right choice.  Sadly, I never had a class with Dr. Esper but I talked to her quite a bit.  She had a great personality and really enjoyed teaching others.  We both loved animals and cared about the rats too!  To this day, I still feed her rat Melma chocolate just like she did! The last time I saw Dr. Esper was at Walmart in December 2001.  She was in her office a lot during the 1st half of the semester, but was not around much at all the 2nd half.  I heard that she was really sick and needed to stay home.  She was with Dr. Arklein and they both were getting things that she needed.  I was not going to say hi to her, but I felt that I really had to and so I did.  It was great to see her and I even remember telling her that I missed her around the department.  She responded that she did too.  She also showed me the fishing tackle box that she was going to use for all her medication.  I was shocked, but hopeful that she will make it through this.  She also asked me if I was going to graduate in May 2002.   I told her no May 2003.  And she said that she was going to be there.  She still will be there but she will have a better seat. It's tough to know that all she needed was a new liver.  I will miss her, but her inspiration will live long with me

Phyllis Chicoine