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Professor Vreven’s revolutionary teaching style

A smiling woman in a purple vest and shirt standing in front of a bookshelf.
Maddison Behringer / THE GATEPOST

By Izayah Morgan

Editorial Staff 

A student walks into Professor Dawn Vreven’s academic advising hours in her office located at 250 O’Connor Hall.

There, they find themselves having to take a statistics course to graduate. The student tells Vreven they took psychology as a major so they would not have to do statistics because they cannot do math - or at least they believed so.

Vreven said she frequently has students come to her office for advising, dreading having to take a statistics course as part of the requirements to graduate from the psychology program.

Vreven said she used to have a very similar thought process in her undergraduate years, and she can empathize with the students.

However, she said as a graduate student, she learned she could do math. And this knowledge helps her teach statistics to students, she added.

To get people to understand why this shift happened, she talked about her undergraduate work at Michigan State University, where she took placement tests for both math and English.

She said she entered college and did not do so well on the math placement exam, so she came into that semester already with the mindset that she could not do math at the university level.

“And for a while, I believed it,” Vreven said. 

However, Vreven said while completing her master's and Ph.D. degrees “something clicked.

“I learned that we could understand statistics conceptually. We don’t have to get lost in the picky little details, right?” she said.

In her experience, students can understand the concept of what she's trying to teach, and then the math part will come a little easier, Vreven said.

Vreven said this was her philosophy when it came to teaching students.

If students can understand the foundations of statistics, the math portion will come much easier and faster, she said.

“I really get a kick out of teaching it that way because many do not expect it,” Vreven said.

The second aspect she focuses on is class collaboration. Students are always on the move and teaching the class content to one another, Vreven said.

Fellow colleague and Professor Anna Flanagan described Vreven's teaching style as very interactive with the students, allowing them to have their voices heard.

Flanagan said she has had the opportunity to watch Vreven in action multiple times over the past 15-year period they have known each other.

She said Vreven is highly engaged with students and always wants to ask them questions and to hear them speak.

“She has high energy, and that rubs off on her students. I think that's important to have,” Flanagan said.

Psychology major Andelis Celestino, a sophomore and a former student of Vreven’s, said when coming into college she already had a negative view of math in general because of her experience with math in high school.

As a psychology major, she said she was overwhelmed once she learned she had to take a statistics class. At first, this was true. She came in with a negative connotation that she would not understand the information, and it would just fly out.

Celestino said as the weeks went by she started to feel more and more comfortable in the class.

Celestino said because of Vreven's teaching style, students are able to connect with her.

Since Vreven was her authentic self, students were able to see her as more than a professor.

“I started to pick up on how she portrayed herself as a human. That's the one thing that drew me into understanding things and keeping my attention,” Celestino said. 

Vreven stated creating a relationship and maintaining it with the students was the best way to get them to learn. 

She said communication is a crucial part in understanding what the student is going through and helping them.

“There’s communication in the way she teaches, and that’s all teaching is - communication,” Celestino said.


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