Academic Skills Center Provides Personal Attention for College Success
Tutoring isn’t just for struggling students. So says Thomas Renzi, coordinator of the Academic Skills Center, a place on campus where instructors can refer students seeking individualized attention for academic achievement and personal success.
“The Academic Skills Center is much more than just a place for remedial help,” Renzi said. “Many students who come here are A and B students who are conscientious of maintaining their grades.”
Opened in 1984 through a Title IV grant, the Academic Skills Center has seen many changes during its 24 years. It has been housed in a variety of locations, including Cleveland Hall, Porter Hall, and since 1999, South Wing 330. What began with a few tutors has turned into a dozen.
Most importantly, the center operated for many years under a walk-in format. In contrast, today’s Academic Skills Center is much more formal and organized, Renzi said. A few years ago, staff members began using ScheduleVIEW, a software program that functions like an advanced spreadsheet to keep track of instructors’ availability as well as students’ visits and specific needs.
Recent changes like these have bolstered attendance and satisfaction. The center handled about 1,500 visits last semester, and a student evaluation survey reported a 92 percent satisfaction rate.
But beyond the changes, Renzi said, increased awareness and referrals from faculty and staff are the driving factors for the Academic Skills Center’s success. Students agree, citing instructors (40 percent) and word-of-mouth (22 percent) as the top two ways they learn about the center.
Renzi encourages instructors to deliver course syllabi and assignments to the center ahead of time if they would like students to receive focused tutoring. He cited instructors from two courses—EDU 201: Introduction to Education and SWK 317: Research in Social Work—who follow that model, resulting in better student performance. Instructors may also submit a referral form if they would like a record of a student who received course-specific tutoring.
Cynthia Eggleston, special assistant to the chair of the Elementary Education and Reading Department, knows the value of the form. Early each semester, she distributes it to instructors and lets both students and faculty members know that help is available if needed. She said students who go to the Academic Skills Center end up getting the boost they need to succeed in their classes.
“I find the Academic Skills Center staff members to be very friendly and accommodating to us and to our students,” Eggleston said. “The center has greatly assisted with our retention efforts, and when students utilize the services, the results have been very beneficial.”
Many students come to the Academic Skills Center for writing help, particularly to organize the structure of a paper, Renzi said. The center’s staff members are trained, however, in a variety of subject areas, including math, business, history, sciences, languages, literature, and grammar.
“Everyone here is a tutor-teacher,” Renzi said. “We’re skilled in different and multiple areas. I teach music, writing, and film. Keith Fulcher tutors writing and the social sciences. Lauren Copeland tutors writing, reading, study skills, and business. The list goes on for every tutor.”
In addition to individual tutoring, the Academic Skills Center offers an annual series of lectures and workshops, dubbed “Workshops to Success,” which tackle areas of personal development, computer proficiency, and writing and study skills. The center also has collaborated with the College Writing Program for “Write Right,” a similar series of writing-intensive workshops. A nearby computer lab with 25 terminals in South Wing 320 provides the center with additional support for students.
The Academic Skills Center’s Web site poses the opening question to visitors: “What student couldn’t use some special help once in a while?” Renzi believes that regardless of a student’s grade point average, it can sometimes feel intimidating to raise a hand in class for help. He hopes faculty and staff will become more accustomed to working with the Academic Skills Center and referring students.
“We can address specific, individual issues facing students,” Renzi said. “That’s the value and nature of tutoring. There is help. Students don’t have to struggle.”