Ask an Antelope: UNK psychology professor Krista Fritson puts her heart into helping others

Krista Fritson has had a penchant for helping others since early childhood.

“My parents were hardworking ‘helpers’ in our neighborhood and school, so I developed empathy and compassion early in my life,” she said.

The Kearney native often listened to and was there for family and friends, particularly those who struggled because of hardships. She then developed a curiosity about people’s behavior and choices and how they lead to different pathways and consequences.

These early experiences took Fritson down the psychology path. The UNK professor earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kearney State College (now UNK) in 1988, master’s degree in clinical psychology from Fort Hays State University in 1991 and doctorate in clinical psychology from the former Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, in 1997.

She’s now in her 20th year of teaching at UNK.

Why did you choose this career path?
My parents did not attend college; however, they strongly encouraged academic and learning success, along with a strong work ethic and passion for following my dreams. Because my aspirations to be the first female quarterback for the then-LA Rams did not seem to be a viable option, I easily concluded that being a psychologist was where my heart was.

I entered undergraduate school not knowing the system in any way; however, I had academic and softball/volleyball scholarships that led me to Kearney State College. I also had work opportunities at Richard Young Hospital, which solidified my desire to be a clinical psychologist. I planned to work full time as a clinician, but after teaching a couple of adjunct courses, I took a full-time position at UNK in 2004 as an assistant psychology professor.

What courses do you currently teach?
I currently teach the clinical track courses such as Psychopathology, Intro to Clinical Psychology, Abnormal Behavior and Society, Clinical Field Experience and Clinical Practicums.

How does UNK’s psychology program prepare students for their future careers?
Our psychology program is excellent at preparing students for immediate careers as bachelor-level mental health workers in hospitals, developmental disabilities, health and human services, business, research, human resources and a variety of other positions. Our program also prepares students to further their education in a variety of graduate schools in psychology – clinical, social, forensic, developmental, health, industrial/organizational, cognitive, physiological, research and health science fields.

Our program and professors are diverse and creative in their teaching approaches, but we are committed to pedagogy and incorporate experiential opportunities, research, community connections/service and flexibility in our courses.

You also work with UNK student-athletes. Tell me about that:
My role with student-athletes at UNK is typically related to sport, specifically, performance enhancement, conflict resolution and team building. Core principles, evidence-based knowledge, experience as a collegiate athlete and years of coaching athletes tether well to support an effective approach to supporting UNK’s student-athletes. I have worked with the volleyball team consistently for about 15 years and have worked intermittently with the men’s and women’s basketball, golf and tennis teams. I also have worked with individual athletes representing all UNK sports teams.

How else are you involved on campus and in the community?
Director of the central Nebraska regional branch of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN)
Sponsor of the Psychology Club
Adviser of Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology
Clinical director of Central Nebraska Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS)
Member of the Buffalo County Community Partners HealthyMINDS and Suicide Prevention Coalition committees
Community partner advocate at Region 3 Behavioral Health Services
Mental Health Monday speaker on NTV every Monday at 5:10 p.m.
Mental wellness speaker on KSNB Local 4 TV every second Thursday of the month at 11:45 a.m.
Mental health topic consultant and speaker on “Talk of the Town,” KGFW Radio

What do you love most about UNK?
I bleed blue! I love the comfortable and student-focused atmosphere at UNK, along with the mutually respectful and interactive relationship between UNK and the Kearney-area community.

Share a fun fact about yourself:
I have an adult child who graduated from UNK and one who graduated from UNL – both in 2021. I also play pickleball.

“Ask an Antelope” is a Q&A series highlighting UNK faculty and staff and their impact on the campus and community.