The first Clemson psychology alum to receive the department’s lifetime achievement award also happens to be an American hero. However, the heroics retired Lt. Col. Simms Anderson performed were often distinguished by how well he could extract information from single individuals, information that meant the difference between life and death for thousands of Americans.
Anderson was one of the first 15 students when the psychology department began in 1967, and through his studies and later military service he became well acquainted with how the human mind works. This knowledge served him well through his time in the Department of Defense and CIA, where he conducted covert intelligence gathering around the world in service to the U.S.
In April, Anderson set foot on Clemson’s campus nearly 40 years after graduating to receive the Clemson University Department of Psychology Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding lifetime career accomplishments.
“My interest and subsequent training in psychology oriented me to make better decisions about people,” Anderson says. “The people I dealt with just happened to then be recruited and managed so that we could access information desired by the United States.”
Anderson says of the many people involved in the U.S. military, very few end up becoming involved in human intelligence work. He feels that his understanding of individuals’ motivations and what incentivizes them gave him a leg up among his peers in being selected for and later excelling in the field of intelligence work and espionage. His career in this capacity began in earnest after he served in the Vietnam War for two years beginning in 1971.
Anderson served in Munich, Germany for a large portion of his career, running agents and managing assets in Soviet-controlled areas. During this time, he worked with interrogators who made their names during the Nuremberg trials and with people in the upper echelons of the intelligence community. Anderson served in the intelligence community until his retirement in 1994.
“It was challenging to do my job amidst changing political climates and policies that would sometimes have a deleterious effect on the intelligence community,” Anderson says. “And when the information we get is lacking or compromised—or leaked—the results could be deadly.”
Amid a busy career, Anderson always made time for Clemson, especially at alumni events involving Dr. Bernard Caffrey, the first chair of Clemson’s psychology department and in Anderson’s words, “the architect of its expansion.” Anderson decided to major in psychology based off of the strength of the faculty, which at the time was only composed of four professors, including Caffrey.
He fondly recalls arriving to the first day of his experimental psychology class taught by Caffrey. Anderson says Caffrey bluntly asked who out of the 15-person class would want to publish a research paper. Anderson laughs as he recalls the number of hesitant hands slowly rising across the classroom, including his own.
Anderson went on to cowrite a study on race relations that polled students regarding how four years of experience at Clemson affected their attitudes toward other races. The study’s results clearly showed that entering freshmen tended to have negative attitudes toward other races, while graduating seniors demonstrated a reduction in these negative attitudes. Throughout the study and his other coursework, Anderson fell in love with psychology and more generally the scientific method.
“I immediately saw the value in using mathematics to test hypotheses, and the faculty’s enthusiasm for teaching these concepts was so clear,” Anderson says. “I had the privilege of presenting that paper as a secondary publisher along with Dr. Caffrey, and it really impressed upon me how important the field of psychology could be on serious issues such as race relations.”
When Anderson returned to the campus in April to accept the lifetime achievement award, he was struck not only by the growth of the university as a whole, but by the growth of the psychology department. In 1967, Anderson was one of 15 students in a department that included four professors; today the psychology department boasts over 800 undergraduate students and 30 full-time faculty members.
According to Patrick Raymark, chair of Clemson’s psychology department, recognition of alumni such as Anderson is an important part of the department’s ongoing efforts to keep all of its alumni engaged with Clemson University. He said Anderson’s many accomplishments made it clear that he was the prefect inaugural recipient of one of the department’s highest honors.
“When I learned about all that Simms accomplished in his career, I felt compelled to find a way to formally recognize his contributions,” Raymark says. “In short, Simms Anderson is not only the inaugural recipient of our distinguished lifetime achievement award, he is the inspiration for why we instituted the award.”
Anderson says Caffrey would be thrilled to see the psychology department’s impressive growth, but he would be just as happy with what has remained the same. The emphasis Caffrey placed on undergraduate research is alive and well in psychology courses and the department’s prolific involvement in the university’s Creative Inquiry program.
“It was Dr. Caffrey’s goal to infuse rigorous training in research into undergraduate education,” Anderson says. “He would be proud of what the psychology department has become today.”
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