Emory Report
September 13, 2004
Volume 57, Number 04


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September 13, 2004
Program passes tutoring on to undergraduates

By eric rangus

Academic support is just a mouse click away for Emory College students who may be struggling with certain introductory classes. Through a program called epass (Emory Pathways to Academic Success for Students), the Office of Undergraduate Education will line up tutors for undergraduates who request one, and the program is rapidly growing into an academic success story of its own.

“I think there is sometimes a stigma attached with applying for a tutor,” said epass Assistant Director Theresa Nash. She administrates the program and trains all the tutors, whose numbers range between 65–80, depending on the semester.

“These are students who graduated in the top 3 percent of their high school classes; they are very successful,” Nash continued. “They may never have had to ask for help before, but in order to remain competitive when the bar has been raised, many are going to find themselves needing some additional support, so that’s where we come into play.”

Housed on the third floor of the Student Activity and Academic Center (SAAC) on the Clairmont Campus, epass is available to all undergraduates. The program offers peer tutoring, science mentoring, academic consulting, academic workshops and access to various academic resources, but the peer tutoring is the most popular.

Tutor requests are made online though epass’s website (www.emory.edu/epass). Within 48 hours Nash matches the applicant with an appropriate tutor. The tutor then contacts the applicant to set up a meeting. Last spring, almost 90 percent of applicants were successfully matched with tutors, and most introductory undergraduate courses are covered. The most frequently requested subjects for tutoring are not too surprising: chemistry, mathematics, physics, Spanish and psychology.

There is no dedicated tutoring space at the SAAC (or anywhere else on campus—something those in epass would eventually like to change), but students meet for sessions in a variety of places: Woodruff Library, common areas in residence halls, even on some of the many sofas scattered throughout the SAAC.
Epass has exploded in popularity since it moved to the college in Fall 2002 from the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (it previously had been known as the Academic Support Program). Tutorial requests in Spring 2004 rose 60 percent from the previous year.

Wendy Newby, assistant dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education, said the number of students volunteering to be tutors is growing rapidly as well. “I think they’re finding that it benefits them,” she said. “Many have said that once you’ve been able to teach material, you really know it, as opposed to just taking the course. So the tutors find benefits, over and above the fact that they get something else to put on their resume—and they get paid.” But the cost to tutored students is free.

Tutors undergo 10 hours of training, led by Nash, before they are cleared to meet with students. Several former tutees are now tutors themselves. “We can’t teach content,” Nash said. “What we focus on is their helping and communication skills. Listening is very important, so are their nurturing skills and the ability to be a good role model.”

“First I try to assess where students are in terms of skill level,” said Amy Schapiro, a senior political science major from Hillsborough, Calif. She works as a Spanish tutor (her minor). “Then I try to figure out what their learning style is and work off of that.”

The requirements to be a tutor are pretty rigorous. Just to sit down for the training process, tutors must have at least a 3.5 GPA (both cumulative and within their subject areas) and be recommended by a faculty member from the department in which they would like to tutor. Most are upperclassmen who have taken the courses they will be tutoring. In part because of the strong training, epass is a nationally certified program—many universities have similar tutoring programs, but not many carry certification.

“It seems to be good for the tutees as well,” Newby said. “They like the relationship with an upperclassman, because they get more than just tutoring help. They get inside knowledge about courses. The tutors have taken the course; they understand the professor and how to study for tests. There is a bonding going on.”
Epass offers more than peer tutoring. One of its increasingly popular programs is a series of academic workshops. Seven workshops are being held this semester; the most recent covered test-taking skills. Upcoming subjects include reading for comprehension, time organization and preparing for finals. Each session draws 15–20 students.

The program also has a working relationship with the Student Counseling Center, and recently the Office of Undergraduate Education has expanded its advising resources, occasionally referring students to the program.

Most, though, still come to epass by word of mouth or faculty referral—although not every department permits tutoring. Newby said there are concerns that tutors could, for instance, help tutees complete assignments, which would be crossing the line of the tutorial relationship.

“This is a program we like very much because it teaches the students how to work independently,” Newby said. “The idea of learning how to learn is a popular one in [primary and secondary] education, but we’re finding that college students, even successful ones, benefit from it as well.”