Lauren Keough receives the Pew Excellence in Teaching Award
Dr. Lauren Keough earned her PhD from the University of Nebraska in 2015, spent a year in a visiting position at Davidson College, and in 2016 joined the faculty at Grand Valley State University. In the six years since, she has accumulated an extraordinary record of success working with students in and out of the classroom. In February 2022, she was recognized for this work with a GVSU Pew Teaching Excellence Award. Across a wide range of courses and settings, students consistently recognize Professor Keough as the best part of their learning experience: how she structures class, how she assesses their work and provides feedback, and how she cares for them.
Dr. Keough has taught 11 different courses at GVSU, from first-year calculus to senior-level abstract algebra. Regardless of content, her classes have a common thread of objectives: for students to (a) develop the confidence to approach and solve non-routine problems, (b) communicate mathematics orally and in writing, and (c) understand why (both why a concept makes sense and why we bother doing it). Dr. Keough realizes that she can’t reach these objectives until her students feel intellectually safe and recognize they have agency, which are her top priorities in teaching. Students need to feel safe asking questions, making mistakes, and sharing partially formed ideas. They also need to be ready to hear and productively respond to feedback.
Dr. Keough is known for taking an “empathy-first” approach with students. Her students know that she is curious about them and that she cares for them, which contributes substantially to them feeling safe in her classes. In the words of one student, “her care for her students’ success is more obvious than the fact that the sky is blue.” In addition, she works to highlight and credit her students’ competence, saying in class things like, “I heard at that table someone saying (insert quote) which is a good example of (insert mathematical behavior); can someone from that table share more about that?” These comments encourage and support her students so they know they have the capability to do challenging mathematics.
One of the top ways Dr. Keough helps her student develop agency is by incorporating open-ended projects and “ungrading” in her courses. For example, in her most recent abstract algebra class, students chose projects from a curated list and then researched, wrote a paper, and delivered final presentations on topics ranging from the Rubik’s cube to sending secret messages. This differs from a common way of assessing mathematics learning: high-stakes exams. The approach allowed students who found the course straightforward to follow their intellectual curiosity well beyond course material. Students who found the course material more challenging showed just as much curiosity and demonstrated excellent growth in their writing and speaking.
Her classroom practices naturally lead to developing strong relationships with students. Many former students request her as an academic advisor. In addition, Dr. Keough has been an impressive and prolific research mentor: she’s worked with 44 students in undergraduate research experiences during her time at Grand Valley. Her former research students comment consistently on how they are treated as equals and how they grow through collaboration. One writes, “When one of us didn't understand something, the other could help talk it out and we would be able to make progress. It was less of a student/teacher dynamic and more like two colleagues working on a project together. This was also beneficial because I knew if I had questions it was not as simple as asking my professor for help. I had to be responsible for my own learning and hunt for answers in reference materials. This made me learn the material better, and was a good skill to develop for the future.” Through a combination of internal grant-funded work, independent studies, senior theses, honors theses, and unfunded summer work, Dr. Keough has profoundly influenced the perspective and development of a large number of students in her time at Grand Valley.
In addition to all of this work that is centered on her teaching and research, Dr. Keough has supported a large number of students in their development in ways that extend well beyond her classroom. She has regularly taken groups of students to the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women, and co-led the grant-funded ISWiM program (Increasing Success of Women in Mathematics) and the Tensor Women and Mathematics Grant that led to the creation of a math circle and mentoring program with our department and Grand Rapids Community College.
The faculty and students of the GVSU Mathematics Department congratulate Dr. Lauren Keough on this well-deserved award and together express their gratitude for her work and influence.