This week, The Settler visits with Michelle Vandiver-Lawrence, Associate Professor of Spanish.
Vandiver has a master’s degree in Spanish and linguistics. She has been teaching at Volunteer State Community College for 11 years.
“Since I was a little girl I wanted to help others, and I was interested in other cultures. I am from a small town, so there was not a lot of diversity.
“People intrigue me. I want to know everything about everyone, and especially anyone who is different than me,” said Vandiver.
She said that she takes an “eclectic approach” to teaching. She describes herself as “as silly as possible” in class, which she hopes makes students feel comfortable.
“I love how easy going she is. … She makes you feel like you can learn anything because she is always so optimistic and supportive,” said student Catherine Goicoechea.
In order to teach the concept of directions, Vandiver uses Barbie dolls as visual aids. She places them into position, and then describes their location (“Ella está a la izquierda del palacio” translates to “She is to the left of the palace.”).
Vandiver is dedicated to international education. She has been an instructor for TnCIS courses, and has lived and studied in Mexico and Spain.
Vandiver has traveled the world, visiting Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Portugal, France, Italy, and Turkey, as well as 32 of the 50 states.
While in Guatemala, she and her husband climbed Pacaya, an active volcano, along with Vol State professor Keith Bell and his wife. “It is one of the most physically strenuous things I’ve ever done,” said Vandiver.
Bell said that neither he nor his wife were fluent in Spanish, so Vandiver acted as translator on the trip, until they reached a remote area where many of the inhabitants’ Spanish was heavily mixed with Mayan dialects. “It was funny to hear her tell us ‘I don’t understand half of what this guy is saying.’”
Wherever she is in the world, Vandiver is most likely to be outdoors.
“Hiking and camping are my favorite. I enjoy extreme activities such as caving, rafting, etc. … My family has an organic garden. We compost and recycle. I have way too many interests to pursue in one lifetime.”
She has a full house as well. She is married to Jason Vandiver-Lawrence, an elementary school teacher. They have three children, two cats and two dogs.
The doll pictured is a souvenir from Guatemala and is wearing a traditional dress.
Vandiver can be reached at Michelle.Vandiver@volstate.edu or by phone at (615) 230-3528.