VanSpeybroeck is 'at home' helping students at SAU

Originally Posted Online: Feb. 06, 2010, 12:00 am
Last Updated: Feb. 08, 2010, 4:21 pm
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By Julie Jensen,
DAVENPORT, 11 a.m. -- Dr. James Van Speybroeck, who teaches statistics and math at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, has just walked from his classroom in New Hall to his office, 221 Ambrose Hall. The walk takes between five and 10 minutes. "Everything on campus is basically that distance," he says

He pours himself a cup of decaf coffee and turns on radio station WVIK-FM, which is broadcast from Augustana College across the river in Rock Island.

A line-up of Healthy Choice soup containers sits on a file cabinet, and a collage with multiple images of harps hangs on the wall. Dr. Van Speybroeck is a harpist, playing at churches and receptions, and his wife Rosalie plays the piano at a local Von Maur department store.

Dr. Van Speybroeck says he supplies all of his students with a phonetic spelling of his name, so they never mispronounce it. It should be "Van-SPY-Brook," he tells them.

He earned his undergraduate degree at St. Ambrose College, his masters in education at Western Illinois University and his doctorate at Illinois State University. Those certificates hang on a wall in his office, along with a plaque naming him SAU's Faculty of the Year for 2006-07.

Kristen Leetzow, a student in his business and economics class, stops in to get his comments on her research project, finding out how much Americans spend each week on cigarettes. Interviewing 64 people, she learned that they spent $20 with a deviation of $5 "give or take." She writes her formula on a board while he watches, and he says she will be able to give this information with 95 percent accuracy for the whole nation.

When Ms. Leetzow leaves, Dr. Van Speybroeck walks down the hall to the College of Business to talk with Professor Mark Brand, who teaches marketing. They discuss how statistics can be used to help him with his marketing-research class. "This helps students understand how to do marketing research without a statistical background," Dr. Van Speybroeck says. "Statistics help them learn to make informed decisions about what is important."

The two professors talk about relationships between two variables dealing with parking at St. Ambrose -- between men and women and commuters versus residents. Increased enrollment calls for increased parking spaces.

"Marketing research is all computerized, but that doesn't help if the computer breaks down," says Dr. Brand, who has just finished work on his Ph. D. "In the old days you would have to do everything manually, but I did all my data collection online, transported it to Excel and then to a software program that does statistical analysis. It's much faster, and I didn't have to touch the data."

Dr. Van Speybroeck returns to his office to check his e-mail. He has an online class with students as far away as Ottumwa, Iowa. One message tells him that a student wants to meet with him at 1 p.m. He goes to the Admissions office, where he learns that the student is a transfer from the College of DuPage. They set up a 1:30 p.m. meeting and then push it to 1:45.

He stops at the office of Dr. John Byrne and says hello to Deb Bennett.

Back in his own office, he talks with another student, Lauren Melik, about registering for the second semester. He asks her what philosophy class she has had, and she tells him she has taken a course in ethics.

The phone doesn't ring very often in Dr. Van Speybroeck's office because he has trained his students and colleagues about the best way to communicate with him. "It's much easier to correspond by e-mail than by phone," he says.

He writes for the magazine Computing Review, and they have e-mailed him a list of titles, asking which of them he wants to review. There's also a message from a student asking if a certain course is required for his major.

Dr. Van Speybroeck, of East Moline, has taught at St. Ambrose for 28 years. Before that, he taught for 11 years at Scott Community College and prior to that he was in banking. "This feels like home to me," he says.


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