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Three classes that redefine learning

September 10, 2018

Hollie Nyseth Brehm turns her lectures into immersive, life-changing experiences.

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Photo of Ohio State faculty and students

Ohio State sociology faculty member Hollie Nyseth Brehm (right) speaks with students Genna Danial (left) and Deborah Makari.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm has more than 400 photos of undergraduate students who have taken her courses since she began teaching at Ohio State in 2014. On the second day of a new class, she takes a photo of each student, so she can commit faces to names.

“It’s tremendously important to have students feel engaged so that they have a better learning experience,” said Brehm.

“My approach to teaching is guided by the belief that you have to connect with each and every one of your students.”

Since arriving at Ohio State, Brehm has developed three undergraduate courses: Sociology of Terrorism; Global Criminology; and Genocide and its Aftermath in Rwanda, Ohio State’s first study abroad program in Rwanda. In all of her courses, Brehm incorporates multiple teaching techniques and tools, such as podcasts, video clips, role-playing, case studies and other active learning exercises to demonstrate how course content translates to practical applications and careers. She also offers field trips and coordinates a career panel for each class to facilitate connections among students and professionals in their desired careers.

“I believe that students are better able to make connections in my courses when they associate what they are learning with their lives outside of the classroom and integrate theoretical knowledge with skills they can translate into a work setting,” Brehm said.

‘Positive and caring’

Natalie DeLeon, a fourth-year marine midshipman in Naval ROTC, majoring in criminology, took Brehm’s terrorism class and has been working as a research assistant for her since January 2018.

“Professor Brehm is one of the most positive, caring, upbeat, inspiring and dedicated professors I have had the privilege of knowing. She is passionate about her job and that reflects in her lectures. She not only listens to her students but does everything she can to make sure that they are successful not only in her classes, but other classes and in life.”

Kerry Stevens, a fourth-year student majoring in international studies and Chinese, also enrolled in Brehm’s Sociology of Terrorism course. She loved the experience so much she asked Brehm to advise her on her undergraduate thesis. 

“I loved Dr. Brehm’s class. She made me actually want to come to class every day, to learn the new content and participate in our daily discussions. As an advisor, her knowledge on research methods and her expertise on how to write research papers are incomparable. She never ceases to amaze me on how much she cares about her students; I am truly lucky to have her as my thesis advisor.”

Students in Brehm’s Global Criminology course work with US Together, a local refugee resettlement agency, to implement a community-based project. For example, the class has partnered with the resettlement agency to develop a public educational campaign around the plight of refugees.

Deb Makari On the second day of class, professor Hollie Nyseth Brehm takes photos of each of her new students as a way of learning their names more quickly.

This past summer marked the second year for Brehm’s study abroad program in Rwanda. Genocide and its Aftermath in Rwanda immerses students in the historical context and repercussions of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Deborah Makari, fourth-year history major, has taken all of Brehm’s courses and studied abroad in Rwanda in June.

“Dr. Brehm taught through a variety of avenues during the trip with lectures, speakers who presented their experiences in various settings and visits to sites, memorials and organizations. This allowed the group to take in much more than we ever imagined during our time in Rwanda. Dr. Brehm created a very comfortable environment which sparked incredible dialogue and provoked deep reflection.”

An eye to the future

In 2016 — in just her second year at Ohio State — Brehm was awarded the highest university-level honors for teaching, Ohio State’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching and the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award. More than 90 percent of Brehm’s students complete Students Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) responses and consistently rank Brehm at the highest level in all areas of teaching, from preparedness and organization to instructor commitment to students’ sense of learning.

“These students are the future of a discipline I care deeply about,” she said. “They are going to carry the discipline forward and for that reason I challenge them to draw connections between their world and what they are learning, to develop a critical lens and to analyze and evaluate every piece of information.”

Brehm will tell you that she loves teaching; that is why she became a professor.

“It is my hope that the concepts and skills learned in my courses will contribute to a tool kit that students will utilize and add to throughout their lives,” said Brehm. “When students tell me that this is the case, I count it as among my greatest teaching accomplishments.”