[Fresh] Interview with Dr. Styer

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Fri, 25 Oct 2002 10:48:40 -0400

Interview with Dr. Robert Styer, Chair, Department of Mathematical Sciences.

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
(28-30 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) located next to the Writing Center in Old Falvey. We opened this center a few
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 next. Most of the tutors are undergraduate students,
but we also have a few graduate student tutors that help students.

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 help. 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 are some of the most common problems students have?

Dr. Styer: Sometimes itís basic algebra, or something the students covered in high school,
but havenít had for a few years. In those cases, we work with students to help them
remember some of the smaller rules that are easy to forget. Other times, they missed
something during class and meant to catch up with a friend or classmate, but forgot. Now
itís the end of the semester and they are still struggling with a concept. We see a number
of students each semester and the problems really vary.

Fresh@News: What about students who are struggling with math software packages?

Dr. Styer: Many 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. Parents can also email us at math@villanova.edu or call our office at
610.519.4850.

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