Sociology instructor loves theatre and an interactive classroom
Dave Berger began teaching sociology at Inver Hills Community College in January 1991, nearly 25 years ago. For perspective, Operation Desert Storm was launched against Iraq that same month and later that fall the Twins beat the Braves to win the World Series. During his time at Inver Hills, Dave has made a point of finding innovative ways to interact with people, from acting in Inver Hills Theatre productions to teaching at the Minnesota Correction Facility–Stillwater. Every new semester is an opportunity to build on his curriculum while showing his students how their different courses are connected by the desire to investigate the world.
“I believe in empowering my students while encouraging them to participate,” Dave said. “The more freedom I give my students to decide how they learn, the more they realize how their coursework overlaps from class to class. The best students are the ones who liberate knowledge from one class and bring it to another.”
A native of North Minneapolis and a 1981 graduate of Patrick Henry High School, Dave began his teaching career in a manner that was unexpected and transformative. He was a 21-year-old undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science when one of his professors became seriously ill. The other professors in the department asked Dave to take over the professor’s courses while he was on sick leave.
“I wasn’t even a graduate student,” recalled Dave, who ended up teaching for six weeks, handling two courses in sociology and a seminar. “I was giving lectures to three hundred students, many of them older than me.”
Dave’s first lecture was on the Vietnam War—and he knew a number of Vietnam War veterans were in his audience. He realized he couldn’t just deliver a lecture; he had to take an interactive approach and get his students involved and talking right from the start. That early plunge into college-level instruction established the foundation of Dave’s teaching career. He discovered that interactive student participation is crucial to higher learning—and continually rediscovering ways to think like a student is essential to that process.
Dave has incorporated several innovative methods in his coursework, including a horseshoe configuration for student desks and decking his classroom walls with 100 original front pages from 37 newspapers. The latter project helps students comprehend the scope of world events over the course of time. You can learn more about the project by reading “Inver Hills professor uses newspapers to bring history to life” by Lannie Walker in the Star Tribune. One of Dave’s hobbies is vexillology, the study of flags. He regularly introduces his students to new flags, hanging them on classroom walls to inspire interest in upcoming topics. Dave is working Student Life to create an exhibit with all the flags he has collected over the years.
The theatreDave loves acting and has performed in some 20 Inver Hills Theatre productions, including:
- The Seagull
- The Unexpected Guest
- The Wizard of Oz
- And Then There Were None
- Servant of Two Masters
- The Front Page
- Midsummer’s Night Dream
- Ali Baba and the Magic Cave
- The Crucible
- South Pacific
- Twelfth Night
- You Can’t Take It With You
“Acting and teaching have a lot in common,” Dave said. “There is no doubt that my acting has helped my teaching and the reverse is true as well. I have loved acting on the Inver Hills Theatre stage. I have been blessed to work with fabulous students, faculty and staff in these productions, allowing me to develop a real strong sense of belonging and community solidarity.”
Dave’s experiences with the Inver Hills Theatre have helped him branch out his acting to Shakespeare & Company and Lakeshore Players Theatre. He is portraying “Wendell” and “Santa Claus” for the latter’s upcoming production of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
“Lakeshore Players Theatre is a fantastic organization,” Dave said. “I am fortunate to be on their stage.”
Lakeshore Players Theatre presents
A Christmas adventure for the whole family
Written by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Hannah Steblay
11 performances running from Thursday, Dec. 3, to Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015
Lakeshore Players Theatre
4820 Stewart Avenue
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas performance photos
Photo credit: Vanessa Brooke Agnes, Lakeshore Players Theatre
Dave Berger Q&A
Q. What is your teaching philosophy?
A. To empower students so they can find their own voices and develop their critical thinking skills.
Q. What is your favorite part about teaching at Inver Hills?
A. The students, staff and faculty pulling together to learn. That teamwork makes learning a social effort that we can all benefit from.
Q. What are the most important and interesting aspects of sociology?
A. Applied aspects of sociology that help people interact and learn about their social world are very important. Developing a sense of the Sociological Imagination is critical. To know how we fit into the overall fabric of the social milieu makes us understand ourselves better.
Q. What do you like best about the theatre?
A. I like learning new ways of interacting and reaching people. To help folks enjoy an hour or two in a fictional land. Entertaining people is fun.
Q. What has been your toughest challenge in life?
A. Translating higher level material into understandable and learnable knowledge for all levels of folks. To make the wonders of higher education available to everyone with an open mind. Also, in some cases, to help open people’s minds to a variety of possibilities.
Q. What was your happiest experience in life so far?
A. The birth of my son, Alex.
Q. What is your favorite place in the world?
A. Anywhere with family and friends
Q. What are three words you would use to describe yourself as a college instructor?
A. Energetic, applied, interactive
Q. If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would that one person be?
Q. Would you rather travel a million years into the future or a million years into the past?
A. Million years into the future
Q. Why did you pick that direction in time?
A. We know the past (more or less) but we really don’t know the future.
Q. What is your highest aspiration in life?
A. To be the best friend, father, brother, partner and son I can be. To help those who need help, to help folks learn and grow.
Dave has a Master of Arts in Sociology from the University of Minnesota. He has Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, also from the U of M. He has done graduate work in the sociology of religion and criminal justice studies. He resides in Minnetonka, Minnesota, but would love to return to Minneapolis.
“I miss life in the city,” he said. “I’m an urban kind of guy.”
To learn more about sociology at Inver Hills, contact: