UA Education Professor Named University Distinguished Research Professor

Dr. Steve Thoma
Dr. Steve Thoma

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama Board of Trustees has named Dr. Stephen Thoma, professor of educational psychology at The University of Alabama, a University Distinguished Research Professor.

This title recognizes UA faculty who have achieved international accomplishments in their fields and who have been given extensive peer recognition for their scholarly contributions and noteworthy academic service.

Thoma is internationally known for his research in moral psychology. He’s particularly known for creating and validating different measurement strategies in the social/moral domain and showing how they can best be used.

“I’ve been here a long time and met a lot of people, a lot of really strong scholars, and some who have this distinction,” Thoma said. “To have it myself … it’s really humbling. I know what kind of an honor it is, and I’m really touched by it. It’s a good way to end one’s career, though I’m not ready to retire.”

Thoma joined the faculty at the UA College of Education in 1986 shortly after he received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He served as an assistant professor in the department of human development and family studies for three years until being named an associate professor in the department in 1990.

He became professor and chair of the department in 1998 and served in that role until 2006, when he began his current role of coordinator of the Educational Psychology Program.

Earlier this year, Thoma became chair in moral psychology and psychometrics at the University of Birmingham, UK, a position Thoma was offered after research about a new, contextual way of measuring the notion of social cooperation for adolescents became a part of their research battery.

Thoma played a vital role in establishing the Center for the Study of Ethical Development at UA in 2008. The Center was formally established with James Rest as research director and Muriel (Mickey) Bebeau as education director and housed in the department of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota in 1982.

Rest, Thoma’s adviser while at Minnesota, died in 1999, and Thoma transferred the center, which officially began as an “office” at UA before becoming the first office to achieve center status in 2012. The Center serves as a catalyst for a development of studies and small grants to students and faculty.

Thoma is also a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Education Research Association.

“What makes Professor Thoma even more exceptional is how his value to our College transcends even his remarkable scholarship,” said Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of UA’s College of Education. “He is a leading light for our younger faculty members, who have all been good witness to his considerable talents and the comprehensive embrace of his job.

“He is a good citizen to the College, who takes his teaching seriously, produces very nice Ph.D. students and always conducts himself with unimpeachable professionalism. He really is the rare superstar scholar who happens to also meet all of his other professional obligations with distinction.”

Thoma received his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1986 and got his Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Massachusetts in 1977. He served as a postdoctoral associate at Minnesota prior to coming to UA.


Dr. Stephen Thoma, professor, Educational Psychology, College of Education, 205/348-8146,


David Miller, UA media relations, 205/348-0825,

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.