Interview with Dr. Robert Styer, Chair, Department of Mathematical
Fresh@News: Do all of our first-year students take math?
Dr. Styer: Villanova is well known for its intensive academic core, and
as part of that core we have a rigorous requirement in math. We expect
all of our students to take at least two math or computer science
courses while they are here.
Fresh@News: How do they do with their math courses?
Dr. Styer: Our students usually come with a good math background. They
can do the work. But sometimes they don't realize how good they are,
and it can cause a certain amount of stress and anxiety, especially
during their first semester.
Fresh@News: What are we doing to help them?
Dr. Styer: Our first line of defense, of course, is our faculty. Most of
our faculty care a great deal about students and sincerely want to help
students who need a little extra support. Rather than offering large
lecture classes, we keep math class sizes small enough (28-32 students)
so there is opportunity for individual attention. All of our faculty
members keep regular office hours when students can stop in to meet with
them for help. They are also willing to schedule appointments at other
times to meet with their students. Most of the problems arise when
students don't come in to ask for help.
Fresh@New: Are there other resources as well?
Dr. Styer: Our other major facility for students is the Mathematics
Learning and Resource Center (MLRC). The MLRC opened two years ago and
it has been an enormous success. The center is open in the afternoons
and evenings, and students may drop in without an appointment for help
on any mathematical or statistical problem.
Fresh@News: What happens at the MLRC?
Dr. Styer: First, we have tried to make it a math-friendly environment,
with colorful posters, and friendly and helpful student tutors. Many
students use the MLRC as a place to do their math homework. They check
in, sit down at a desk and start to do their assignment. When they run
into a problem, a tutor comes over to them and gives them enough help to
get them over the hurdle. Then they go back to working on their own
until they encounter the next problem. What we are trying to avoid is
the situation where a student is stuck and just doesn't know what to do
The MLRC also offers more intensive tutoring sessions for students who
need extra help. Both the MLRC and the Mathematical Sciences department
also keep a list of private tutors for students who need additional
In addition, we find that some students have problems with their math
classes because they missed essential background in high school,
especially in algebra and trigonometry. So the MLRC has a number of
videos and commercial software packages that we find are really helpful
to students in filling the gaps.
Fresh@News: What about students who are struggling with math software
Dr. Styer: Almost all of our math courses use software. Although our
students are usually pretty comfortable with computers, the students
sometimes find the math software packages a bit intimidating. Here
again the MLRC is a big help. The MLRC has all of the packages up and
running at computer work stations and has tutors who are especially
trained to deal with computer questions.
Fresh@News: What advice would you give parents?
Dr. Styer: The most important thing is to encourage your student to get
help, either from the professor or from the MLRC, well in advance of
"the night before the test." Parents should also be careful not to
communicate their own math anxieties to their students. Sometimes
parents try to make students feel better by saying, "I was no good at
math either." The message we really want to communicate is: "You can do
the work and there are resources to help you when you have problems."
Parents are also invited to visit our homepage at
http://www.math.villanova.edu/, which has information about the
department and its faculty.
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