A little help from our friends
Learning Center tutors help Tigers make the grade
After attending a chemistry help session at MU's Learning Center, agriculture major Julia Neidhardt was so impressed that she volunteered to develop a help session in zoology. Now she tutors fellow students in chemistry and biology.
Julia Neidhardt was hesitant when a friend suggested they check out the chemistry help sessions offered by the Learning Center. Neidhardt, an agriculture major from Louisville, Ky., wasn’t struggling in her chemistry class. In fact, she probably would have gotten a B without additional help. Nonetheless, she decided to check it out.
“I approached it as someone who was going to do fine in the class,” Neidhardt says, “but going to the open help sessions made my life so much easier.”
The Learning Center turned out to be much more than she expected.
“I was so impressed by the tutors,” she says. “They made me feel comfortable with the material and confident going into the exams.”
Whether making life easier for students like Neidhardt or helping students struggling in their classes, tutoring has proven effective. Buoyed by programs such as the Learning Center, MU has set an all-time high with its latest graduation rate of 70.7 percent.
“Our records show that the retention rates of Learning Center users are higher than non-users,” says Phil Deming, director of the Learning Center. “We also typically see a rise in earned grade point averages for Learning Center users.”
Since 1976 the Learning Center has provided individual tutoring sessions to students who meet the federal criteria for the TRiO Community for Academic and Tutorial Support (CATS) program, a federally funded program designed to help promising first-generation students, students with financial need and students with disabilities meet the demands of college.
In recent years, the Learning Center has added similar programs for underrepresented minorities, students with disabilities and veterans.
“For those students who don’t qualify for individual tutoring, we offer numerous help sessions,” Deming says. “Also, anyone who comes through our doors can get help from our staff on developing study plans and strategies where we help identify what resources are available to the student.”
Joining the team
Julia Neidhardt tutors junior nutrition and fitness major Jake Cyr, left, and sophomore biology major Shaquille Shanklin at the Learning Center.
Neidhardt’s experience as a Learning Center user made her a believer — so much so she is now on the other side of the table, serving as a tutor for chemistry and biology courses.
Last year she also led an open help session in zoology, having watched classmates struggle with the subject while enrolled in an introductory zoology course. With the help of Yve Solbrekken, coordinator of science tutoring for the Learning Center, Neidhardt volunteered to help set up the sessions.
“I really love that we are growing to meet that demand of more specialized classes,” says Neidhardt.
Before the tutoring sessions became available, zoology professor Trista Strauch had provided all of the outside-class assistance, which included review sessions and individual meetings with students. The help sessions through the Learning Center allowed students another opportunity to review materials, hear different explanations and get answers to questions.
“Each time they hear a concept presented, they should gain a greater understanding,” Strauch says. “These review sessions provided an environment for concepts to be presented again.”
Making the transition to being a tutor was not a difficult one for Neidhardt. Her past experience qualified her for the role.
“Julia can better anticipate some of the students’ approaches and help set reasonable expectations,” Solbrekken says. “A good tutor not only teaches content but also teaches and role-models what I call ‘good studentship skills.’”
Those skills, according to Solbrekken, include time management, accessing resources for life issues and utilizing supplementary instruction resources.
“It takes time to see the value in these things, especially for young college students,” Solbrekken says. “Julia benefits greatly from having ‘been there, done that’ combined with her genuine interest in other people.”
Students as tutors can be advantageous for many reasons. Students often ask tutors questions that they might be uncomfortable asking their professors, Neidhardt points out. “They get their questions answered from a student’s perspective instead of a professor’s perspective,” she adds. “That can be beneficial.”
Neidhardt spends at least an hour a day meeting with students at the Learning Center. The demand picks up around mid-terms and finals.
One of the major rules of the center is that tutors should stay upbeat, always. Solbrekken, clad in a shirt that reads "You are important," says that Neidhardt has “a genuine concern for the education and well-being of others. She is determined to never give up — either on herself or on others.”
The Learning Center is housed in the Student Success Center and employs nearly 300 students as tutors this semester. The overall use of the center has increased by more than 40 percent since 2007-08, serving more than 7,500 students each year. Last year, two-thirds of freshmen and one-third of all undergraduates used the services of the Learning Center.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in recent years,” Deming says. “Our staff and the tutors have played a major role in making this place so successful.”
The Writing Center, which operates out of the Learning Center, is available to all students. Consultants are on hand to provide one-on-one assistance for every step of the writing process: brainstorming, researching, developing an outline, revising, polishing the final draft.
Services are abundant at the Learning Center, but students have to take initiative.
“It is really up to the students,” Neidhardt says. “They have to come to the tutoring sessions. They have to do what we ask. They have to work outside of the tutoring sessions. They have to attend class."
That plan worked for Neidhardt, who will graduate in May and hopes to pursue a career in fundraising or donor relations.
“I like working with people,” she explains. “I think the tutoring goes along with that very well.”