old photo of people smiling at the camera
Psychology faculty photo in 1981. Professor Leon James is in the first row, second from the left.

The year 1971 marked the start of important University of Hawaiʻi programs and milestones, including the UH Cancer Center, UH Marine Option Program and ALOHAnet (a protocol utilized by all wireless communications today). It also marked the beginning of one of the longest serving faculty members at UH Mānoa. Department of Psychology Professor Leon James celebrated 50 years of service to the university in September 2021.

James has given more than 1,600 interviews and is an expert on “road rage.” Throughout his 50 years at UH Mānoa, James said he got the most gratification from teaching the thousands of students who have gone through his classes.

people standing on a bridge
Photo from 1996 of James’s psychology course taken at the Center for Korean Studies. James is in the middle of the group.

“One of my memorable moments was when I received a congratulatory email from the dean mentioning my 10 years of service,” James said. “Little did I know that there would be several more decades ahead of me. I think my teaching has improved over the years with more experience and less misconceptions on my part about how the learning process takes place. I always enjoyed and appreciated student comments at the end of the semester in which they let me know that they value the perspective that I taught them.”

James earned a PhD in psychology in 1962 from McGill University in Canada and worked as a faculty member at the University of Illinois from 1964–71 before coming to UH Mānoa. He specializes in psycholinguistics, language teaching, driving psychology, online instruction and spiritual psychology.

James has witnessed countless UH Mānoa milestones, including the construction of UH Mānoa Campus Center, Sakamaki Hall (home of the psychology department) and many other new buildings and facilities. He said along with the years came a need to learn new technologies.

people smiling at the camera
Psychology faculty photo in 2005. James is in the third row, second from the left.

“There were no personal computers. I used to write out letters and articles by hand, and hand them over to the wonderful office secretaries who typed them. But later, I learned to type my own drafts and letters on electric typewriters, and after that on personal computers,” James explained. “I loved the computers and the internet that started in 1995. I loved the web search engines. It made everything accessible so that I stopped going to the library except on occasions. I could also copy text that I was quoting in an article, or styled references, images and videos, and this made everything easier, but much more complicated! I had to keep learning to stay afloat.”

The Department of Psychology in the College of Social Sciences celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020. While James continues to look forward to even more opportunities, he still takes a moment to remember all of the department’s achievements in the past 50 years.

“The department kept growing with wonderful new faculty. They were energetic and bought in new worthwhile ideas for improving the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. At this point all of the early members that I knew when I joined are no longer around. I sometimes look at the old department photos and refresh my memory of their faces and contributions,” James said.

James’s work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

By Marc Arakaki