The Department of Academic Learning
The Department of Academic Learning
By Brett Sampson ’88
People help each other here. Teachers—all employees really—encourage and serve students. And students support one another too. That’s the way it’s always been at this school. The pioneers of the university understood and lived lives of Christian service, and today’s Latter-day Saints continue the tradition at Brigham Young University–Idaho. One clear and inspiring example of this caring environment is the Department of Academic Learning. This area, located at one end of the David O. McKay Library, consists of centers in which fellow students provide one-on-one, free, personalized tutoring. The need for tutors in college is not uncommon, but it is unusual to have access to assistance without having to pay by the hour.
A student staff provides students with assistance in various subjects including reading, writing, math, study skills, and tutoring for most classes on campus. This personalized assistance from peers helps many significantly increase their ability to understand challenging class material.
As a philanthropic priority approved by the BYU–Idaho Board of Trustees, the department receives financial support donated by alumni and friends. That support provides wages for the tutors and even makes small grants-in-aid possible.
A SCENE OF SIMULTANEOUS SERVICE
At any given time, pairs of students are intently hovering over papers or books. Oftentimes the seats in these comfortable, open rooms are filled with students sitting at the rows and groupings of desks. To glance across the scene is to witness charity. It is a gathering of those able and willing to assist those in need—pure exchanges of giving and receiving.
The Department of Academic Learning provides the means and the setting for many of those moments to occur all at once, all day long.
TURNING BACK TO HELP ANOTHER
A testament to the effectiveness of the program is that students who once needed tutoring actually progress to the point of becoming tutors themselves.
department chair, directly observes ongoing growth in students every
semester. “We take students where they are and individually lift them to
a higher level of
Now-accomplished young men and women have the opportunity to solidify their own knowledge through the process of teaching. What they also offer, however, is empathy and patience for those they tutor. The feelings that often come from not easily grasping concepts along with the desperate desire to succeed are fresh in their minds.
Greg views learning and teaching at the Learning Centers as a gratifying and inspiring manifestation of the scripture, “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another and both are edified and rejoice together” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:22). He observes,
The students learn subject matter, but the tutors gain an appreciation for talents their students have that they themselves don’t possess. Both the tutor and the student begin to recognize the reality of having different gifts, accepting those gifts, and sharing them. It is good, for example, to see a math tutor getting help with writing in the Writing Center, and a reading tutor getting help with math in the Math Center. They have learned to both give and receive with dignity.
Statistical reports compliment the visible triumphs at the Learning Centers. In 2005 an impressive 7,041 different students were helped in one way or another. These students (3,800 females and 3,241 males) made 79,947 visits. With a total of 82,338 hours of tutoring provided, an average of 12 hours was spent with each student.
The success of Academic Learning is measurable not only in the high percentage of students who take advantage of at least one of the centers but also through feedback from those helped.
Student evaluations of their tutors indicate that 88 percent of those assisted achieve better grades, 44 percent say that without a tutor they would drop their more difficult courses, and 90 percent report that because of tutoring they actually like subjects they disliked prior to the tutoring experience.
Ironically the greatest success for the Department of Academic Learning would be that, after all the effort, it was no longer needed. “We want to work ourselves out of a job,” Greg says with a smile. “This means that one kind of success is when a student says something like, ‘Thanks for your help, but I don’t need you anymore. I can do it on my own now.’ We are happy to see them move on.”
In general the university experience is a difficult one in which learning how to learn becomes just as important as the knowledge gained. Some who go to college, however, truly lack certain study or learning skills and struggle far more than the average student.
Students who deal with learning disabilities that may have originated in secondary or even elementary school soon realize the scholastic survival methods employed in the past will not hold up for university-level courses.
These students with extraordinary learning difficulties would not even consider the possibility of receiving a scholarship; yet to assist such students and reward their dedicated efforts, Academic Learning has been able to provide a select few with small grants-in-aid.
This unexpected showing of confidence literally renews a struggling student’s hope and changes the lives of these young people forever. The financial support, though often minimal, gives those BYU–Idaho students a boost. It adds to their self-respect and personal expectations to succeed not only in school but also at home, in the Church, and in their future vocations or professions. They realize someone believes in them.
A BENEFIT TO THE TUTORS
Students with learning or developmental challenges are not the only ones who benefit; approximately 300 student tutors are employed by Academic Learning. These students not only benefit from the paid position, but they are able to broaden their experience, increase their knowledge, and discover the joys of serving through their employment as tutors. Many of them later look for further employment opportunities that are service-oriented, and some ultimately pursue teaching as a lifetime career.
ENSURING ONGOING ASSISTANCE
The cycle of service is far-reaching. Individuals and foundations, such as the Smith Family Foundation, help fund the BYU–Idaho Department of Academic Learning Endowment.* Through this fund, tutors are paid; other students receive much-needed assistance and even small grants; some of those helped are then hired to help others; and some will turn back and donate to the priority as well.
Establishing this endowment will ensure permanent funding for grants to aspiring students in need of special learning assistance and provide wages for tutors, helping finance their education.
The endowment will also provide much needed materials and facilities and offset some of the added costs for developmental courses some students should take before they can enroll in regular classes.
Under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, LDS Philanthropies (with offices at BYU–Idaho) welcomes and facilitates gifts to the Department of Academic Learning as well as all other philanthropic priorities. For more information, call (800) 227-4257 or visit www.byui.edu/giving.
On behalf of the Department of Academic Learning, Greg Hazard shares, “Students are constantly in my office thanking me for the services of the tutors and the Learning Centers. I wish there was a way I could pass that gratitude on to the administrators, Board of Trustees, and donors who so graciously support the department and its mission. It is a fabulous feeling to be part of something that changes so many lives for good.”
Greg Hazard thanks you, we at LDS Philanthropies thank you, and the students thank you. SM
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*In philanthropic circles an endowment is a sum of money that is invested so it will generate interest in perpetuity and support the charitable cause the donor has specified. Only the interest is used, while the principal remains untouched or is added to periodically. SM