By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Nikki Lacherza knows what it is like to be in the shoes of a Pope John XXIII Regional High School student who is undecided on what he or she wants to do once they graduate high school.
That all changed for the 2008 graduate during her senior year when she took Mr. Brad Cameron’s Psychology and Sociology class.
“I wanted to be a lawyer, but I then I took Mr. Cameron’s class and I really loved Psychology,” Lacherza said.
Lacherza’s love for this field has led her to earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the College of St. Elizabeth and landing jobs as a doctor for Lifespan Psychological Associates in Waldwick and a professor at the College of St. Elizabeth, County College of Morris and Caldwell University.
It also allowed her to come back to Pope John last Friday, 10 years since being a student, and speak to Mr. Cameron’s AP Psychology classes about her career in the field.
“It was great,” Lacherza said. “Mr. Cameron and I have stayed in contact since I graduated. I knew he was still teaching psychology classes here at Pope John. When he asked me if I could come speak to his classes, I was honored to talk to them and share my experiences.”
“She was great,” Mr. Cameron said. “I’m really proud of what she has done and was happy she came back to speak. She is one of the students who appreciated being here at Pope John and wanted to give back, so we found an agreeable day she could come to visit. I believe the students really liked having someone speak to them who was in their shoes not too long ago.”
Long before her talk with Mr. Cameron’s classes, Lacherza had a broad definition of psychology. Psychology is “the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.
However, her perspective changed when she took Mr. Cameron’s class.
“Probably like most people, I thought it was all about diagnosing behaviors and crazy people,” Lacherza said. “That’s not what it is. It is about everyday people who have issues like stress or anxiety.
“What also helped me was his way of teaching the material,” Lacherza continued. “Even the boring stuff (about the subject) he made very interesting and it seemed relatable to life.”
After taking Mr. Cameron’s course, Lacherza pursued her passion for psychology, starting at Sussex County Community College. There, she received her Associate of the Arts degree in liberal arts with a psychology option after finishing with a cumulative GPA of 4.0.
Then, she transferred to the College of St. Elizabeth, where she graduated with her bachelor’s in May 2012, also with an overall cumulative GPA of 4.0. She also received departmental honors in psychology from the Morristown college with another overall cumulative GPA of 4.0.
Then, just over a year later, Lacherza graduated with her master’s and earned acceptance to the College of St. Elizabeth’s first cohort for the Doctor of Psychology program. Finally, in May of 2017, Lacherza capped her academic career by earning her doctorate after finishing that program with a 4.0 GPA.
While speaking with Mr. Cameron’s classes, Lacherza made it a point that those who are looking into psychology have to understand the reality of how much work is involved.
“My main message was that psychology is one of those areas in which so many people choose as a major because they are interested in the subject, but end up not doing anything with it,” Lacherza said. “They intend to do something, but they soon realize that they need to earn a higher degree in order to really earn a job in the field. If it is something you are interested in pursuing, it takes a long time, but it is definitely worth it in the end.”
In addition to her work in the classroom, Lacherza had experiences such as working at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains. Lacherza shared some of these stories with Mr. Cameron’s class.
Pope John seniors Victoria Caruso, Megan Ryder and Anne Ilardi were intrigued with Lacherza’s talk with them.
“It was really interesting because we are taking psychology right now,” Caruso said. “It’s interesting to see what other routes you can take with it in college.”
Ilardi was particularly interested in Lacherza’s talk because she is exploring the possibility of majoring in art therapy in college and was relieved to hear about how Lacherza got into it.
“She understands us,” Ilardi said. “She gets that we are stressed and anxious, especially as a senior. So, it was good to hear how much to expect in undergraduate school and beyond.”
Ryder liked how Lacherza’s talk put things in perspective for her.
“It is interesting to see how there are so many disorders and behavioral issues in the world, and we are complaining about high school stuff,” Ryder said.
While Lacherza certainly empathized with what it is like to be a student at Pope John, she says her time here certainly played a role in her recent success.
“Pope John definitely prepared me to go through college and finish the doctoral program,” Lacherza said. “All the time and effort I put in high school, I was using what I learned throughout my schooling and I still apply those lessons to my career today.”
More importantly, Lacherza felt that she owed Mr. Cameron a thank you for showing her the world of psychology.
“I always go back to Mr. Cameron. It started with him,” Lacherza said. “If I never took the psychology and sociology class with him, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.”