Student aid consolidates, improves

Courtney C. Miller works with a student in the new Writing Lab.
Peter Gillette

Courtney C. Miller works with a student in the new Writing Lab. (Quinn Lake)

Student Academic Services, College Place, and the Writing Lab have all moved to first floor Briggs, along with the new Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).The CTL was created by a grant from the Mellon Foundation in order to assist faculty and students with meeting the new General Education Requirements, which require “skill building” in a particular area.

The new GERs include four competency requirements: foreign language, writing, speaking, and mathematical reasoning/quantitative analysis.

For a course to meet one of these four criteria, it must work on building one of those skills. In these courses, skill building is at least as important as the content of the course.

That’s where the CTL comes in, says Beth Haines, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of GER implementation. Haines wrote the grant proposal to the Mellon Foundation.

Although the four competency areas have been considered strengths of a liberal education, Haines focuses on understanding how to teach. “Although not every course fulfills the [competency requirement], hopefully the whole curriculum can pick up on those four values. We can all recognize great speeches or great writing, but we can’t all teach the skill that creates that,” Haines said.

A faculty committee created the competency requirements last spring, and the CTL was a step toward teaching the faculty how to teach skills.

The CTL also crosses departmental lines because these skills can be incorporated into practically any kind of class.

Along with subject specific help and study skills tutoring through College Place and help from the Writing Lab, students now have a Communications Lab available. Speech tutors are available by appointment or during the Communications Lab’s walk-in hours, which are 3-5 and 7-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursday, and Friday between 1 and 5 p.m.

Students struggling with class participation, facing job interviews, looking to brush up on public speaking skills, or preparing for formal speeches can videotape themselves during tutoring sessions.

This provides a sort of parallel to the Writing Lab, where students who are recognized for superior writing ability tutor their peers.

Monica Rico runs the speech/communications lab, and also lectures in the history department. Rico looks forward to working with faculty from across the campus to facilitate discussion on how to impart skills along with the content of a particular course. Faculty in a particular department can come together in the center for peer-led sessions, as well.

Dean of student academic services Martha Hemwall provided an example of the CTL at work, citing a seminar on anthropology which she is teaching third term. “I talked over with [Rico] possible ways to make the course writing/speaking intensive.” Eventually, content won out, as teaching speech at the same time as anthropology would get to be a bit much, but Rico and the CTL served as a sounding board for Hemwall’s ideas.

Perhaps the most noticeable change with the new location, though, is having SAS, College Place, and the Writing Lab all in the same place. This keeps Hemwall and assistant dean of SAS, Geoff Gajewski, from having to be two places at once.

“The Writing Lab and College Place aren’t just for freshman studies students,” Gajewski stressed. The same tutors are available, only instead of crossing the bridge to Brokaw, students need only to take the stairs down to Briggs.