Feature: Academic Advising and Learning Center Tutors Poised for Fall Term

Western Oregon University is highly invested in student success, and as such, it offers a wide variety of free tutoring assistance for enrollees. However, many students aren’t familiar with the full breadth of options for getting help with different subjects, and that’s something the Academic Advising and Learning Center (soon to be Student Success and Academic Advising) wants to improve.

A quick search of “free tutoring” on the WOU website garners a long list of resources. In addition to the AALC, there are several subject-specific tutoring centers for specialized assistance.

“We handle a lot of the general undergrad courses,” explained Academic Adviser Ron Mercer, one of three staff members who work in that capacity. “If people need help with writing, math or science, we send them to the other centers.”

The AALC hires a range of tutors each year, covering topics from foreign language to business and anthropology. If a student requests help in a subject there’s no tutor for, Mercer and others work with faculty to find a student who wants to tutor. Tutor positions are paid, and most hiring is done in late summer so tutors are ready to start the second week of fall term.

The Writing Center, Math Center and Science Center offer free tutoring in those subjects, and there’s also English language assistance for non-native speakers.

Fall term is the busiest time of year, Mercer said. With incoming students adjusting to academic rigor and getting their bearings, having a friendly and helpful peer available is a popular resource. Foreign languages are the most common tutoring topics, though Mercer is still on the lookout for someone who wants to help with German.

This year, tutoring will be available nightly for all students in the evenings in Ackerman Hall, Mercer said. It’s the first time evening hours specifically have been scheduled on campus.

The students who work as tutors run the gamut from sophomores—the first year it’s an option—to fifth-year seniors. Many are student-athletes, who have high academic standards and therefore excel in many topics. Others are looking to expand their communication skills and fill their resumes. All of them want to help their fellow students.

Here are a few of the tutors currently assisting students through the AALC:

Allison NelkeAlison Nelke

Year: Junior

Hometown: Albany

Major: Business

Tutoring specialty: BA 211 Financial Accounting and BA Managerial Accounting

Nelke had a head start on accounting when she arrived at WOU. She’d take a lot of accounting classes at her high school in Albany.

“Accounting is another language in that you have a lot of different terminology that you have to get used to, like ‘debit’ and ‘credit’ mean ‘left’ and ‘right,’” she explained. “I already got to hear and be around all of that for a long time, so that helped because the college class is 10 or 11 weeks of learning just crammed into one.”

Nelke is on the WOU basketball team and noticed she was helping a lot of her teammates with the two business classes she specializes in. Even her current roommate has hit her up for help. She realized she could make a job out of helping students in concepts she is very comfortable with.

“(The job) is nice in that it works around you. And it works for the students, too, so you both want to be there,” she said.

She advises students to make the most of their free tutoring time by planning questions or homework they need help on before each session. “Specific questions are great. Not just ‘I’m getting bad grades on my homework and I don’t know what to do.’ You can be totally honest about where you are at with the subject.”

Approachability is something all AALC tutors share. Nelke appreciates that she can learn something from every student, too, such as better communications skills, persistence and patience.

“It makes me think about different ways of saying things,” she said. “I can think of things in my head, and I’ll say that the first time, but they might give me a blank look. So then I have to figure out a way to say it again in a different way. That turned out to be a really interesting skill that I’m sure can transfer to other aspects of life, especially in the business world.”

One barrier she won’t cross is actually doing another student’s homework. Instead, she tries to guide the student in the right direction.

“I ask them, ‘What do you think it is?’” she said. “The great thing about the one-on-one is that there’s no risk in getting it wrong. They aren’t losing credit. I guide them toward the really specific question that gets them on the right track, and then we go from there.”

Grace KnappGrace Knapp

Year: Junior

Hometown: Sandy

Major: Biology

Tutoring specialty: French

Foreign languages, which are required for many WOU students, are among the most highly sought tutoring sessions. Knapp said tutoring appointments have much lower stakes than approaching a professor directly, especially for students who haven’t yet developed confidence in the language.

“(Tutoring) helps the students get a little more practice and familiarity with the language because it’s a lot all at once,” Knapp said. “Having one-on-one time with someone helps students feel more comfortable. Confidence is what language is about.”

Knapp has finished all the French classes that WOU offers, though she’s actually a biology major. She seconds Nelke’s advice to students about having specific areas to work on coming into a tutoring session.

“Just be clear about what help you need,” she advised. “Some people need help with conjugation. Or maybe you just want to practice speaking. When you are in a class, even if there are only 20 kids, it’s really hard for a teacher to be able to spend the time everyone needs to learn something.”

Knapp worries that students don’t realize the tutoring is free of charge. She said she didn’t really understand during her freshman year that the resource was available. Knapp, a member of the WOU track and field team, has sought tutoring herself, for a linguistics class.

“The way the teacher explained (the linguistics lesson) didn’t click with me, but then I talked to a tutor and I got it in, like, 30 seconds because she said it in a different way.”

Students also should know that tutors are prepared for students with different learning styles. In fact, Knapp said, most sessions are student-led because they know how they learn best.

“It’s kind of like you’re just hanging out with a friend,” she said. “It’s easier if you are the same age as someone and are just sitting in a table setting with them. You don’t lose anything from just trying it out.”

Abby ElliottAbby Elliott

Year: Senior

Major: Early childhood education

Hometown: Oregon City

Tutoring specialty: Spanish

Elliott is another tutor who focuses on the popular topic of foreign language. Like Knapp, she has tapped out all the WOU resources on her language of choice, and she’s eager to help other students feel as passionately about Spanish at she does.

“It requires a lot of practice to be proficient in (a foreign language),” Elliott said. “For some people it’s just not a strong subject for them. People just learn differently, and with language, people come to a tutor to make that connection. Tutors want to help students be really proficient in the subject they are passionate about because they wouldn’t be tutoring it if they weren’t passionate about it and enjoyed it.

Elliott transferred to WOU from Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to study but thought education might be a good fit. WOU was the obvious, least expensive option for the Oregon City native.

The busiest times of the year in the AALC tutoring center are fall term and before midterms and finals during any term. She, like many other tutors, has going into classrooms where her specialty is being taught and talked to students about tutoring resources. She considers it her responsibility to “sell” students on setting up tutoring sessions, even though they don’t have pay for them.

Elliott really wants students to know they shouldn’t wait until they are struggling to come in. Ideally, students would have sessions for an hour each week of the term to make sure they were staying on top of new information; attending a single tutoring session in the second week and then not coming in for six weeks is a recipe for trouble.

“When they come to me in week eight and they are still struggling, I wonder ‘Why didn’t you come to me in week three right after you saw me the first time?’ I could have helped more if you’d come in all term,” she said. “It would be great if they could schedule a session once a week every week, just like a class.”

About free tutoring on campus:

Find the complete list at wou.edu/freetutoring

Book a tutoring appointment: Use the WCS in your portal, select “get tutoring” and choose “course-based tutoring” from the pull-down menu.

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