Knowledgable Peers Help Students with Classes at Success Center
Feb. 17, 2014
Supplemental Instruction leader Franchy Ursua, a junior studying child learning and development and psychology, helped neuroscience freshman Sammy Lutes understand concepts in behavioral neuroscience at the Student Success Center.
When Francesca “Franchy” Ursua enrolled in a behavioral neurosciences class last fall, she heard “horror stories” from students about how hard it would be.
She not only ended up loving the class, she earned an A. So she figured she would put her experience to good use.
Ursua, a junior in child learning and development and psychology, now helps other students in that same class. She is a trained Supplemental Instruction (SI) leader in the University’s Student Success Center, facilitating study group sessions for her peers.
As an SI leader, Ursua is taking the same class again this semester with a new group of students. She takes notes and develops a group learning experience with a faculty member. In group sessions held three times a week, she shares learning strategies as well as subject content.
“I love learning more about the brain, and I want people to enjoy it rather than be afraid of it,” Ursua said. “I know what they’re struggling with. I wanted to disprove the horror stories about hard courses like this.”
SI is just one of the peer-led offerings available at the Student Success Center, located in the first floor of the McDermott Library. Besides group learning experiences, the center offers one-on-one tutoring and labs for math and writing.
There are 165 SI leaders this semester. They are paid student workers who did well in the classes for which they offer expertise.
“It’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with someone who’s already taken the class and who is in class with you,” said Tiffanie Douglas, program coordinator. “If you have a question, they’ve heard the material. It’s a safe place to ask questions.”
Free, Effective Resource for Students
The center’s records show that students who participate in group or individual study sessions typically improve by a whole grade in their classes. All of the center’s services are free to UT Dallas students.
Michael Lee Jr. explained a concept to Linh Bui (right) during a Peer-Led Team Learning session for organic chemistry. PLTLs offer structured small group learning for historically difficult courses.
“We’re here to support our students and to support them toward graduation. We give them all the tools they need to succeed,” said Kimshi Hickman, assistant dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education, who leads the center. “The strategies and techniques learned at the center will help when they get to graduate and professional schools.”
Students with a range of academic needs take advantage of the center. Some may be struggling to pass a course; others want to beef up their grade from an A- to an A+.
The Student Success Center also provides a strong leadership opportunity for students who tutor or lead group sessions for their peers.
“I’m biased. We have the best students on campus. They really want to help others succeed,” Hickman said.
Methods That Suit Different Learning Styles
Students needing help can choose a method that suits their learning style. Some use multiple services, layering individual tutoring with group sessions. Others target specific, one-time help for difficult problems.
One popular method is Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL), a structured small group learning experience to help students succeed in historically difficult courses, such as organic chemistry.
Grishma Pradhan, a biology junior, led a Peer-Led Team Learning session for organic chemistry in the Student Success Center.
Students must register for the PLTL sessions and are required to attend once a week. Staff said the 80-minute sessions are as effective for students as two and ½ hours of studying on their own.
Up to eight students and a peer leader work as a team each week to complete a packet developed by faculty. The groups tend to fill up as soon as registration opens.
Biology sophomore Aamir Syed is taking the Organic Chemistry II PLTL to improve his A- grade from last semester. He is hoping to get into medical school and wants the best grades possible.
Even his first PLTL session was helpful, Syed said.
“I figured out what I don’t know. It’s a lot more open,” he said. “You’re not afraid to ask stupid questions.”
Other group learning options, like the SI sessions, have a drop-in format with no registration needed.
One-on-One Preferred By Some
For students who prefer a one-on-one learning environment, Peer-Led Tutoring offers help for classes that range from biochemistry to computer science.
“Individualized peer tutoring is great for those who want one-on-one customized [tutoring]. It’s them showing up and saying ‘This is what I need,’” said Jody Everson, learning specialist.
Math senior Sarah Wells said she has been tutoring fellow students since she was in elementary school.
“I’ve always loved tutoring. It makes me happy to see people get it. And I think I’m good at it. I like to improve on what happens in the classroom. It’s getting on [students] level,” Wells said.
Tutoring sessions are held in McDermott Library, MC 1.312, and Residential Hall West, RHW 4.003, and are available by appointment and drop-in.
Math Lab Draws Large Crowds
For students who need quick help with math, physics and statistics courses, the Math Lab in MC 3.606 provides an open environment lab setting.
“Students will camp out for four hours. They put up the flag when they have a question or need help,” said Michael Saenz, program coordinator. “Most of the students are doing well. They just want to do their best.”
Math Lab: 10,000
Writing Lab: 360
Supplemental Instruction: 1,100
Peer-Led Team Learning: 1,100
Peer Tutoring: 800
About 75 percent of the help sought is calculus-based, Saenz said. The lab also offers weekly reviews for specific classes and topics.
The Writing Center in MC 1.206 helps students with any stage of the writing process. Writing consultants are graduate students in various disciplines who can help with writing assignments and personal essays.
Consultants can help students find a topic for a paper, organize ideas, draft or revise papers, document sources and prepare for essay exams.
Walk-ins are welcome, but scheduled appointments are encouraged. Students need to bring copies of their assignments, copies of the writing work they have started and their Comet Cards.
The center will open a Communications Lab in fall 2014 where students can work on speeches and oral presentations by video recording practice sessions.
Douglas said the center tries to accommodate any enrolled student’s request for academic support.
“All of us are passionate about helping students reach their goal. We don’t push past where they want to go,” Douglas said.