It's a daunting subject that can leave students quivering in their shoes and afraid to crack open the textbook. But anxiety is calmed and fears are eased in AIU Online Assistant Professor Suzanne Malek's lab, which has won the unlikely status of becoming one of students' favorite learning labs to attend. If you know Professor Malek, this comes as little surprise, since she brings the same amount of enthusiasm to the subject of statistics as she does to her own life.
In a unique twist of fate, Malek says, "I hated statistics the first time [I took it]." It was thanks to some of her past instructors that her perception turned around. "I had instructors that made you feel that when you sat down and concentrated, a light came on. They presented it in a way that I could understand. I learned from the best."
Those instructors' work is evident in the positive response to Malek's Statistics Lab, which she has facilitated for almost a decade.
"I believe the key to engaging students and creating interest is relevance. You need to provide something that catches their attention." So she relates statistics to students' favorite sports teams and what they do at work. "I pull in whatever I can. ... You don't have to pass barriers or thresholds to get someone to be interested in what you're talking about if it's already relating to them."
The end result is rewarding for Malek. "It's a great sense of fulfillment when you make a difference in a student's life. ... It's pretty darn awesome to share your passion for a subject."
She understands that students likely enter her class with apprehension rather than excitement, so she recommends taking it one step at a time. "When you face any challenge, whatever it may be, it seems daunting. Try to break it into manageable chunks. ... It's like climbing stairs—if you miss a step, you could trip." She also recommends keeping a positive attitude. "Students' anxiety is often high with math and statistics, but we create our own sense of anxiety. Don't be fearful. Give it a chance."
Malek takes her own advice when she encounters new adventures. For almost a month, she was an international educator in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Information Agency. She taught faculty—who then went on to teach the country's new entrepreneurs—business economics and international aspects of a transitioning economy. "It was right after the Soviet Union broke apart. I took my children, who were 5 and 8 at the time, who didn't speak any Kyrgyz or Russian. I spoke Russian but not Kyrgyz ... I was apprehensive about taking my children into an actively transitioning area of the world; however, it truly was a wonderful and positive experience," she says.
"A long time ago, I made a commitment to lifelong learning. I was inspired by previous teachers who encouraged discoveries." Just looking at her resume confirms her desire to learn about multiple subjects. From tackling sales and marketing at Coca-Cola, to quality at Southern Plastics Molding, to analyzing, managing and teaching at Intel Corporation, Malek doesn't slow down.
Today, she is currently working on her Ph.D. dissertation in Business and Technology to add to her BS in Marketing and Management and her MBA in International Business—all while teaching and serving as an independent consultant in Project Management and Agile/SCRUM Methodology. "I work on different projects on a three-to-four month basis. ... I only do one at a time since I'm working on my dissertation," she says. "I'm constantly juggling."
And she wouldn't have it any other way. "If your perception is you need to take time off to become a hermit or shelter yourself, you may miss out on opportunities you'll never get again."
She also embraces lifelong learning by traveling whenever possible. "[When I haven't traveled in a while,] I feel claustrophobic and have to get out and have new experiences with new sights, new sounds, smells, food. There is no better education than if you travel. ... If you don't have the attitude that everything is there for you to benefit from, experience and enrich your life, you're missing out. ... It's like I said before, you have to take steps up. If you climb up, you can see so much more. That's what life is all about.
"Looking back, I feel very appreciative, and I would do it all again exactly the same way. And to be doing things like this while teaching, it's a gift, an opportunity, a chance many people don't get."
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