FAU Broward Campuses - Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Patricia Willems

Monday, Nov 01, 2021
Dr. Patricia Willems

Associate Professor | Educational Psychology

Dr. Patricia Willems is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology for the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education, where she has taught since 2000. "Educational psychology is a branch of psychology that centers on how individuals learn and the factors that affect the learning process such as development, instructional methods, individual difference in learners, memory, and retention as well as transfer of information," said Dr. Willems. Her lifelong devotion to this field was motivated in part by her years in her native country of Venezuela as well as the educational experiences she encountered when her family immigrated to the United States.

"From the time that I was very young I knew I wanted to be involved in education. I absolutely loved the idea of helping others learn and often played ‘school’ with my grandmother before I even attended formal schooling," Dr. Willems said. "I undoubtedly was influenced by my family as I come from a long line of educators – my mother, aunts and cousins all found their calling as teachers thus you can say it is in my blood. When I moved to this country as a young child, I did not know the English language, and unfortunately in those transitional years I did not encounter many positive or rewarding educational experiences. These early adverse occurrences stayed with me when I attended the University of Florida where I found myself drawn to courses that assisted me in understanding human thought processes and behavior, particularly as it related to children and adolescents. The field of Educational Psychology was for me the perfect union of the two disciplines that encompassed what I was most passionate about: psychology and education. I earned both my masters and doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Florida, and today I find my passion for education and psychology continues to hold true."

Dr. Willems’ research on case study instruction has been chronicled in three of her four books, and in numerous book chapters, academic journals, and professional presentations throughout her career. Her fourth book, Theories in Educational Psychology, is a college level textbook used nationwide. "Case study instruction in educational psychology allows us to examine authentic classroom environments and the challenges that K-12 teachers face in the classroom, which is especially crucial in courses where field placement is not possible or required," Dr. Willems said. "Immersing students in simulations of real-life classroom experiences allows them to apply the theoretical knowledge learned in class to authentic learning situations where they can role-play using multiple perspectives – student, teacher, administrator. Thereby, adding an element of realism and practical significance to instruction."

Another important area of Dr. Willems’ research is student motivation and the connection it has to their academic success, as well as how it can be mediated by effective teaching practices, one of which is the case study method of instruction. Her work in this area has yielded multiple publications and presentations noting the significance of student’s motivational practices – specifically self-regulation and mastery goal setting in relation to their learning in both traditional and online classes. Most recently, in collaboration with colleagues, Dr. Willems has extended her previous work on parent involvement to include the impact that the recent increase in the use of online tools may have on parents’ efficacy to become involved in their child’s learning, and ultimately their educational success. "We want to determine if and how parents’ role construction of their place in their child’s education is affected by variables such as their efficacy for technology, culture, socioeconomic status, choice of schools, etc." she said. Dr. Willems also serves on numerous committees with the University, her College, and her department, as well as being actively involved in her field and in the school community. In addition, beginning in Spring of 2022, Dr. Willems will be a program coordinator for the master’s degrees in her department.

Dr. Willems teaches courses both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her graduate courses in Educational Psychology draws students who are interested in various areas of education. Her courses on Personality Theories in Education, Adolescent & Young Adult in Education, and Child Development in Educational Psychology expose students to learning more about the various areas of Educational Psychology while applying their learning to the real-world. "I tailor my assignments to incorporate real-world application of the various theoretical perspectives while allowing students to reflect on the current challenges they are likely to face in their practice. I want for my students to actively engage with the coursework offering students the opportunity for individual choices. I feel it is essential for students to view their learning as personally relevant and tailored to meet their educational interests within the scope of the course. I believe it empowers them to seek more information becoming vested in their learning about the areas of Educational Psychology that interests them most" she said.

She has also been involved in mentoring and advising students in the Master’s in Educational Psychology since she came to Florida Atlantic University, as well as taken part in several doctoral dissertation committees. Most recently, Dr. Willems has become involved in the doctoral program in Curriculum and Instruction which will now be housed in her department. She is excited to be increasing her involvement with doctoral candidates and is now chairing a dissertation committee. "I look forward to continuing to work with graduate students in the Masters of Educational Psychology program, as well as having the opportunity to mentor doctoral students and pursue joint research ventures with them."

"I am grateful that I have had remarkable personal and professional experiences here at FAU both with my colleagues and with my students. For me, I feel most professionally and personally rewarded when I am able to see first-hand a student’s educational journey. I am always overjoyed when a student I had in my course as an undergraduate pursues a graduate degree in Educational Psychology and I can witness their professional growth."

Dr. Willems was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Her family immigrated to the United States later settling in Miami. She enjoys reading, watching films, and spending time with her three children and their dogs – a boxer and a yorkie. "I love traveling with my children and getting to experience the world through their eyes which is very refreshing and educational, it keeps me grounded to what is important in my life."