SHERI DUNLAVY: Changing education paradigms

To appreciate Sheri Dunlavy’s imaginative take on teaching effectiveness, one need look no further than a spider’s innate and intricate talent.

“Teaching is about connecting all of the students through a complicated web that balances facilitating students learning from each other and learning from a number of other sources,” says Dunlavy, associate professor of psychology, who began her career at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in 2003. 

Nowhere is this personal philosophy more evident than in one of her most notable class projects, where she divides students into small groups and requires them to become resident experts on a topic of their choosing, such as same-sex marriage or contraceptive methods, and then present the pros and cons of the debate to Dunlavy and the groups’ classmates.

“In today’s world, information is right there. Any third-grader with an iPad can Google information,” Dunlavy says. “I tell my students that’s not what’s going to make them valuable. What’s going to make them valuable is their ability to synthesize that information to use it, adapt it, analyze it, and be creative with it.”

Dunlavy says her interactions with actively engaged students represent the best parts of her day, as she routinely teaches Introduction to Psychology, Lifespan Development, and Human Sexuality.

“Through my discipline, psychology, I can: open the minds of parents to the plight and joys of the typical adolescent; assist the unmotivated student in finding new ways to embrace course material; give hope and encouragement to the returning adult student who does not see the worth of the knowledge she already possesses; provide validation to the student who finds himself wondering if he is ‘cut out for college;’ and broaden the minds of students who have not had the privilege to understand the joys of embracing our differences,” she says.

Dunlavy, as it turns out, is a relatable figure to many students who struggle with feeling different: Her father died when she was a high school sophomore, leaving her and her siblings to be raised by their mother. She also knows the social stigma of participating in a free and reduced-price lunch program and the challenges associated with being a first-generation college student.

It is these experiences and more that have helped her become an esteemed educator and ideal candidate for the statewide Ivy Tech Academy for Instructional Excellence, where she has served as a facilitator for the past five years.

“It’s a program designed to take educators who are seasoned and rejuvenate them by focusing on what it means to be a teacher and to have them connect with that,” Dunlavy says. In turn, she mentors colleagues at the regional campus regarding these professional discoveries. 

Dunlavy’s additional expressions of leadership at the region include her current service as co-chair of the Green Team and recent service as the regional coordinator for Phi Theta Kappa, an academic honor society for two-year college students.