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Students Helping Students

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Tutors in the Learning commons
Thirty-five of the more than 100 UMD tutors this semester show off their new home in the Library Learning Commons.

UMD Named Best Tutoring Program in the Nation

Daniel Gala University of Minnesota Duluth
Daniel Gala

After Struggle Comes Success

Daniel Gala, runner-up for ATP Peer Tutor of the Year Award, is a junior at UMD. From his success in the classroom, you wouldn’t know that when he arrived in the Minneapolis airport in 2004 at 11 years old, he didn’t know any English. From his success as a UMD tutor, you wouldn’t know he was admitted to UMD on a provisional basis.

Gala, the first member of his family to go to college, is majoring in mathematics and communication.  He’s a fast learner and he works hard. “I know it is not going to be an easy route, but I am willing to sacrifice everything I've got to get there,” he said. And he lives by those words.

Jill Strand, an instructor in the Supportive Services Program has been impressed by Gala's progress. "During his first semester at UMD he proved to his advisor he could handle a pre-calculus class," she said. "In two semesters as a sophomore, he earned the highest level of international tutoring certification." He has also received a Virginia Katz Scholarship and a Harry Oden Scholarship.

Strand said Gala immersed himself in the tutoring center. "After Gala tutored the required 41 hours, he volunteered for 22 additional hours that same semester," she said. "He tutored his friends for free, he became an undergraduate teaching assistant for the Human Communication Theory class, and he continues to tutor on a volunteer basis." When an international student from China needed help, Gala stepped in. The young woman was failing a class and Daniel met with her weekly to pass the class and get back on track toward her degree.

Gala met success at UMD as he did so often on his journey. He escaped war in South Sudan with his mother and siblings, traveled to Egypt where he learned Arabic, and attended Minnesota schools where he learned English and a third culture.

“I came in as a beat down child soaked in a heavy rain with two bricks in my pocket," Gala said. "I lacked confidence, felt pressured, and allowed the criticism of others to dictate my life. That was yesterday. Today I know what I am capable of doing, and never again will let anyone crush my spirit underneath his boot. I tutored mathematics at an accredited university and no one can ever take that away from me.”

What do students do when they are having trouble with accounting, chemistry, or corporate finance?  How about statistics, physics, French or Chinese? The UMD Tutoring Center supports all of these subjects and 105 more. They do so much, for so many, and they have been named the 2014 Most Outstanding Tutoring Program in the nation.

The Supportive Services Program Tutoring Center was recognized as the outstanding program of the year at the national conference of the Association for the Tutoring Profession (ATP) in March 2014 and UMD is celebrating. An event honoring the center and the award will be held from 3-5 p.m. on May 1, in the UMD Library Rotunda.

The ATP award is given annually to “recognize the tutorial program that exemplifies excellence in training, scope of purpose and range of tutorial support to students within the academic setting.” In what was described by the ATP awards committee chair as the “most competitive field in the history of the awards,” the University of Minnesota Duluth was chosen as the top program in the country.

This school year, more than 200 qualified, trained tutors provided tutoring to primarily undergraduate students for 112 courses. They delivered 15,000 tutorials through 10,000 hours of free service to UMD students.  Additionally, program faculty and teaching assistants provided more than 1,500 contact hours of supplemental instruction, lower-division courses, and leadership training courses.  Tutoring services are open and available to all of UMD’s 8,500 undergraduate students on a free, walk-in basis, 54 hours per week. 

Paul Treuer, the Supportive Services Program interim director, notes that the tutors acquire skill, confidence, and analytical abilities by helping others. “They are challenged to know their subjects really well to be able to impart that knowledge,” he said.

UMD tutors agree, and they aren’t shy about the benefits they receive for helping others. When surveyed, the tutors say they communicate more clearly and effectively after working as a tutor. Their analytical abilities are heightened and many credit their tutoring experience with making them better public speakers.  “Tutors are sought after by employers,” Treuer said.

UMD tutors aren’t paid. "Instead they earn credit for their work," said Jill Strand, an instructor in the Supportive Services Program. "They first take a two-credit tutoring training course, which includes providing three hours of tutoring per week." In subsequent semesters, students who take one to two credits of a tutor practicum course can continue to tutor. "After they have used all of their credit options, many tutors stay on as volunteers," said Strand. 

Each year, hundreds of UMD students give high marks to the Tutoring Center. The students are grateful, but the tutors say they are rewarded as much, or more, than the students they help.

Dr. Wade Kubat, a plastic surgeon with St. Luke's Plastic Surgery Associates, credits his success to the UMD Tutoring Center. He tutored for two years before graduating from UMD with a biochemistry and molecular biology degree in 1995.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the UMD Tutoring Center,” said Kubat. “With Paul's assistance, I realized that every individual learns new information in a different manner. It's important to match the way you teach to the way the other person learns.” Kubat received a master's degree in biochemistry at Texas A&M University and attended Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences medical school. He completed his internship, residency, and fellowship at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Every day in my practice I use the skills I learned as a tutor. As a physician I need to have the ability to communicate complex information to different individuals' learning styles on a daily basis. The tutoring center gave me the skill set and base that allows me to effectively communicate to my patients. I feel that I am a better physician because of this.”

Over the years, SSP and its tutoring program have earned a variety of awards and recognitions.  In 1992, Minnesota’s governor Arne Carlson awarded SSP’s tutoring program with one of Minnesota’s Ten Best Ideas Awards.  In 2003, UMD’s Tutoring Center was recognized as a “best practice” by the Minnesota Council for Quality, an honor afforded to only a few, select programs or businesses across the country.  Tutoring Center coordinators Mary Duff and Claudia Martin, won Outstanding Service Awards for continuous service – the highest honor a staff member can earn at UMD. In 1998, Dr. Martha Maxwell from the University of California, Berkeley, and a national tutoring guru, completed an external review of our tutoring program and stated, “No other program has offered 100,000 tutoring hours in 10 years by voluntary, unpaid tutors – and I doubt that any can beat that record.”  UMD actually beat its own record: 300,000 tutorials were completed by the spring of 2013 – 200,000 more tutorials in 15 years’ time! Between 1994 and 2013, 1,624 tutoring certificates have been conferred.

The support for student learning at UMD casts a wide net. Supportive Services Program developed UMD’s first Introduction to College Learning (Freshman Seminar) course in the early 1990’s as a response to the need to improve first year retention rates. In Fall 2013, a Learning Commons was established, complete with a writing center, a multi-media center and a research and information center.

Supportive Services Program Information

By Cheryl Reitan, April 2014.

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