At the start of last semester, Adam Linetty, assistant director of the Institute for Student Success (ISS), met with first-year students to introduce them to his team and encourage them to utilize the services they offer, such as tutoring and academic coaching. He shared that in the fall of 2019, nearly 53% of the first-year class had utilized ISS services. His message was well received. By the end of 2020, the number would increase nearly four percentage points for the college’s newest cohort of first-year students.
The increase in students utilizing the ISS in the fall of 2020 did not apply to only first-year students. Overall, the total number of students engaged in tutoring programs was 584 (39.1% of all students, up from 31.2% in fall 2019); and the number of individual tutoring sessions was up nearly 60% last semester, from 415 in fall 2019 to 683 in fall 2020.
With a team that includes 55 student tutors—some of whom offer help in more than one subject area—Linetty developed a series of content-specific workshops to provide support for courses taken most frequently in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, computer science, calculus, statistics, and history. Workshops were typically offered outside of class on evenings and weekends, but some were also offered during class.
“The history faculty really took to the idea of doing some in-class sessions on note-taking and critical reading,” said Linetty. “The tutors were able to join the classes on Zoom and work with the professors in a breakout-room setting to have discussions with students about, for example, a particular reading they had that day.”
Linetty’s team enjoyed a similar collaboration on anatomy and physiology coursework. “Working with the faculty in that department, they saw a really good opportunity to have these workshops in class to do some tactile practicing so students could really understand manipulation of joints or tissues.”
“We really couldn’t offer as good of a program as we do without the help of faculty,” said Linetty.
The ISS offers individual tutoring sessions as well. Students can be paired with a tutor for ongoing one-on-sessions, but tutors are also be available for drop-in sessions two to three times each week.
“Often we find that students come into [drop-in sessions] to make some sort of personal connection with the tutors because they know tutors are students of advanced standing in that major, so they may be able to help navigate the landscape of choosing classes or generally going through the major,” said Linetty.
Dolly Singley, director of disability services, and Katie O’Brien, assistant director of student success, oversee the academic coaching arm of the ISS. Of the team’s 55 tutors, 15 are academic coaches who guide students in developing universal skills. Topics include time management, effective study techniques, resiliency, and strategies to reduce text anxiety.
“One of the things we also really promote is the setting of SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound goals that students can not only work towards in the short-term for their academic career, but they can also utilize this growth mindset for their future,” said Linetty.
In an effort to provide a “holistic picture of how students are learning” so that the ISS is better equipped to help them, tutors provide some general feedback to faculty. They share issues that are commonly discussed and topics of particular difficulty. “Faculty then try to tailor their course discussions to address those issues so that students really can understand the material to the fullest extent,” said Linetty. “They have really appreciated getting this feedback that they might not otherwise get in class.”
Linetty, who expects to hire more tutors in February, encourages students to utilize the ISS even if they need help with a subject not typically covered by the ISS. “We’re always looking to get students what they need. So feedback is always welcome. We just want students to feel like this is their home, like this is a place where they can come to get any sort of support that they need.”