Nicholas Kierniesky Biography

"Luck is the residue of design" -Branch Rickey

The biography goes up to the early 1970s, when I took the faculty position at Mount Saint Mary's College (now University). Details (mostly professional) after that can be found in my Curriculum Vitae and my Retirement Comments. I think there is quite a bit of truth to Branch Rickey's famous quote. Does the "luck" of my first 28 years or so the "residue of design," or is it just that fuzzy construct that one uses frequently for the fortunes and failures of life?

I was born on 12/28/1943 at Fort Jackson, SC, while my father was on maneuvers in Tennessee, preparing to go oversees as part of final Allied assault right after D Day. After the war, we settled in Millville, NJ, where my father ultimately went back to the Wheaton glass factory, and where he spent the rest of this life. I mention this because the glass industry made it possible for us to live a good life. I also worked many summers in the glass factory and made quite a bit of money to pay for college, cars, wine, women and song (well maybe not that much).

I had a regular kid's life, through R.D. Wood School, Bacon Junior High, and graduating from Millville Memorial High in 1962. The school years were OK but unremarkable: I rarely made the honor role. I was elected as one of two Social Chairman (now called Chairpersons) of the Senior Class. However, I have to admit that I backed into this position. It seems that three girls and one boy (me) were nominated for the two positions. I got the third highest number of votes, and everyone thought that two girls won the position. But everyone, including myself, forgot that the two positions called for one male and one female. So I trumped the second place finisher! I do believe, however, that I was ahead of the times, because I came up with the theme of a dance fund raiser in the fall of 1961. The theme: An "Oldies" dance! In 1961! Yes, I was one of the few that recognized that there were oldies all the way back to 1955!

I took guitar lessons in 1952, and played guitar up to about 1966, after which I quit, for reasons which are still unclear to me. But during the college years, I was a member of a band, the Imperials, that played many weddings in fire halls though out south Jersey While a kid, I also developed an interest in magic, and I became active in the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. My first publications were in the international journal of the organization, The Linking Ring. I also held various offices in the local chapter, but I never was a very good magician. It was fun, but interest in magic also ran its course in the early 1960s. I also spent many late nights distorting my brain listening to Jean Shepherd and Long John Nebel on WOR, New York: The signal was pretty good to south Jersey.

In 1962, I entered LaSalle College in Philadelphia knowing that I wanted to major in psychology. I subsequently found out that I was one of the rarest students around: I ended up staying with my first interest, all the way through my formal education. Before college, my first psychology book, was Ernest Jones' "Introduction to Freudian Psychology." Later, I became less enamored with psychoanalytic thinking. I was a good student at LaSalle, very serious about academics, graduating just inside the first quintile of my class. I was very proud to be elected to the Psi Chi honor society, one year after the local chapter was established. My liberal education at LaSalle was excellent, and I still appreciate the depth of my exposure to a variety of topics and ideas. In psychology, my interests followed the traditional path of most undergraduate, clinical topics. Exposure to the many interesting areas of experimental and physiological psychology was fairly weak, although I was slowly taking an interest in those topics to which I was exposed. It wasn't until I started graduate work at Villanova University that I took tremendous interest in the research topics of learning, motivation, and brain function.

I started Master's work at Villanova in 1966. Among several reasons for attending Villanova included financial aid and to be near my then girlfriend, The exposure to the psychology of learning, motivation, perception, and brain function was exciting. Even the graduate statistics courses clarified some confusion from the undergraduate courses. As a teaching assistant, I not only got paid, but enjoyed a bit of responsibility running labs and teaching, what were then call, "recitation" sections. Academically, I seemed to have improved as I advanced from high school, college, and graduate school. In 1968, I applied and was accepted to work with Dr. Arnold Gerall at Tulane University. I worked with two of his students who were now faculty at Villanova.

What about the Vietnam war and the military draft? Students getting Bachelor degrees in 1966, were allowed to go to graduate school for five years to complete the degree they were currently working on before being eligible for the draft. So I maintained my "2S" status. Graduates in 1967 were not so lucky! But Villanova didn't have a Ph.D. program in psychology, only a M.S. In 1968, I got dressed up, slicked down my hair, and went to the Draft Board in Bridgeton, NJ, to tell them I was working on my Ph.D. but I had to change universities. I didn't specify why, nor did they ask! My "2S" deferment lasted until 1971. I think I was one of the longest "2S" deferred student in history. By 1971, when I took my first full time job, I was classified "1A," but by then, the draft was based on a random draw of 365 birthdays. Only the first 122 or so at that point were likely to be drafted. My birthday was 126!

My girlfriend had already dumped me in early 1967, and I was ready for a major change in environment, and New Orleans fit the bill. In 1968 with my M.S. in hand, I left by train for Tulane University. I was awarded a NASA Traineeship, one of the last offered by NASA to graduate programs. Although it functioned as a fellowship, I did some research lab work for Gerall as part of the deal, and learned the theory and techniques of animal models of psychosexual development. Arnold Gerall was a member of the famous team that published a landmark experiment in 1959 that verified that testosterone was a prenatal organizer of sexual anatomy, physiology, and behavior. As a consequence, he was a major figure in this work, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from NIH for research. He supported his own staff, graduate students, and post-docs. At this point, don't ask what NASA has to do with psychosexual development! Arnold Gerall was an excellent mentor. I consider myself to be very fortunate since over the years, I have heard so many horror stories about doctoral mentors. I took about three years to complete necessary course work, language exam in French, qualifying exam in statistics, and comprehensive doctoral exams in physiological psychology, learning, animal behavior, and development. Passing all this brought me status of "Ph.D candidacy," which allowed for the development of the dissertation research and defense.

There are many interesting graduate school tales to tell at another time, but on the personal front, a met a nice girl, December 26 or 27, 1968. I flew home for Christmas to visit my family, and I received a phone call from Barbara Carrullo, a fellow student while at Villanova. She had just moved to center city Philly and lived with three other women, one of which she wanted me to meet. After a first awkward night with Barbara (she was pushy!) and her boyfriend, Diane invited me back for a quiet dinner with another couple. Upon returning to New Orleans, I continued to write to Diane. I met her when I came up to Philly for a professional meeting the following April, and ultimately she came down to New Orleans for a week in June, where we pretty much fell in love. New Orleans can do that to you! Although we were apart all summer, I came up in August and early September, when we decided to get engaged. I came up for a long weekend in October so Diane could show me the engagement ring she picked out (!), and to announce it to our families. Her folks gave us an engagement party, December 20, 1969. I returned to school, but came home for preparation of the May 30th nuptials. After a week at Montauk Point, NY we gathered stuff up and took a slow trip south via Outer Banks to take up residence in the married students' apartments at Tulane, right behind the classic Sugar Bowl, since torn down. Diane took a job as a field representative for the Southeast Louisiana Girl Scouts (her boss's name was Miss Merritt!).

I continued my work toward candidacy (see above) and collected all my dissertation data, and at the same time, applied and interviewed for jobs. I had already decided that I would like to work in a liberal arts college as opposed to a very strong research-oriented university. I saw the pressures and heard the stories of high powered research environments, and realized that I wanted to do research on my own terms in an environment that supported, but did not heavily demand it. I received phone and visiting interviews from small schools in North Carolina, Indiana, and Iowa, but I accepted an offer from Mount Saint Mary's College in Maryland beginning September, 1971. I picked this school for two basic reasons, the highest salary not being one of them. First the location put us within several hours of our families. Second, the psychology major was only three years old, and I was given a budget to develop and build a laboratory program on my own from scratch: A rare opportunity. I completed my dissertation research in June, 1972, presented it at a national meeting, and then Diane and I set off for the entire summer traveling Mexico and the American west by car.

The rest of my life at Mount Saint Mary's is presented in two other sections of this website, Curriculum Vitae/Publications and Presentations, and in Retirement Remarks. Also, you can see a list of other researchers who have cited my publications over the years. The list is modest, but I'm glad that some of my work was acknowledged by others around the world. The juicer stuff about Mount Saint Mary's is for another time.

In 1973, Diane gave birth to David, and in 1977, she delivered Stephen. We lived happily ever after.