As the first third of the semester comes to a close, many classes come to their first exams, and some students may find themselves in tough spots academically. The Academic Success Center in the Owen Library basement may be a saving grace in more ways than anticipated.
The center’s director, Kate Stahl-Kinsinger, said that around the fifth week of class and most students’ first exams, emails are sent out to those needing extra academic support.
Stahl-Kinsinger said her team goes through a list of students with staff from other branches of Student Affairs to attempt to identify whether a student’s issues or patterns arise from outside stressors or a lack of study habits, and then she and her academic counselors attempt to meet with all listed students.
“It’s easy to say to them, ‘Apply for a tutor through Campus Services or go to drop-in (tutoring)’—but we want to identify what else is going on that they’re not functioning at their best academically.
“We ask them how they prepare, how much time they put in, what they do (to study).”
Stahl-Kinsinger said she may suggest that students try Cornell note-taking, typing up their notes, or going through with a highlighter and making concept maps.
“Whatever it is they are doing, we suggest that they change it up and see if they get different results.
“A lot of college is about being able to adjust. You have to ask for help, and sometimes that’s a barrier. It’s not the end of the world. We all experience failure. The point is what can you do different next time?”
For those needing a little more instruction, different tutoring services include one-on-one and small group tutoring, drop-in tutoring and supplemental instruction.
Sophomore Dandre Bell tutored Physics 1 last year at the center. He said he had three individual tutees.
“I went over how to do the problem more than how to get to the answer—physics is a way of thinking,” Bell said.
“People definitely did better in class after (I tutored them),” he said.
Bell said that students can request a tutor through Campus Services at upj.pitt.edu. They then receive an email with their assigned tutor’s name, email and phone number, and it’s their responsibility to reach out.
Bell said the tutor also receives an email with the student’s information, but only to confirm that any message is from a registered tutee.
“I feel like it could be a little daunting because they have to initiate it. But I think every (one of my tutees) reached out at least once.”
The number of tutees registered decides whether a tutor works with small groups or individuals for that subject.
Bell said tutors are also available for most math classes, through Calculus 3; chemistry; and biology. He said there was also drop-in tutoring for physics, but a tutee is not guaranteed personal attention in drop-in sessions.
The center’s Tutor Coordinator, Leanna Noon, said in an email, “The (center) promotes tutoring as a means to maximize performance—and one’s GPA—rather than a strategy to avoid failure.
“Peer tutors are trained not only to review content, but also to help students improve study skills and general academic success strategies geared toward each specific course.”
Noon said that, although there was tutor training in the beginning of the year, she continues to hire and train tutors throughout the semester.
She said a prospective tutor must have a 3.0 GPA and a B+ or better grade in the target class. They may then apply to be a tutor, attend a mid-semester training session and complete an interview with her.
“Tutors should also demonstrate effective interpersonal and communication skills, including positive attitude, empathy, patience and a commitment to helping students succeed academically.”
Other services overseen by center staff include the Academic Alert System and the Great Outcomes in Academic Learning program.
The Academic Alert system allows professors to point out a student to the center who may be struggling with grades or attendance in a specific class, Stahl-Kinsinger said. Counselors reach out to the student to discuss an action plan to get on track.
The learning program is for students who are put on academic probation after their first term. Academic Counselor BJ Sarneso, its director, said students in the program take a course teaching proper study habits. Students are required to keep a 90 percent attendance rate and meet with a counselor every week.
Sarneso said the learning program is not the only one for students on academic probation, but it is the more intrusive of the two, and participation in one of them is required.
“If they show progress but are still on probation, (learning program participants) may be invited back because they tried the program,” Sarneso said.