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Projects aim to improve learning outcomes for TTU students

Faculty and staff at Tennessee Tech University are integrating mentoring programs into the student experience to help more students earn their degrees.

Research suggests that students learn better and develop a greater connection with their school through peer mentoring programs and the university’s Counseling Center, learning support program, and counseling and psychology and chemistry departments are building their own.

“If we can do anything to help our students be more successful, to feel more plugged in not only to our college but across the university as well, we will,” said Chuck Craig, advisor in the College of Education’s teacher education program.

The projects, including those from the College of Education and Office of Career Services, are the results of a competitive micro-grant program from TTU provost Bahman Ghorashi’s office. The grants were available for up to $5,000 each. The fall 2015 application process will open soon.

The grant winners will present their projects and preliminary data from their first semester of work in a series of colloquia from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 5 in the second-floor Roaden University Center multipurpose room.

The first colloquium will feature presentations about the Counseling Center’s soaring eagles peer educator program, Career Services’ technology-based outreach program to help first-year students select a major and the College of Education Student Success Center’s Project Inspire.

Counseling Center

The Counseling Center’s program has eight trained and nationally certified students who will help others at TTU find help when they need it. Students have already helped to organize several awareness events on campus and will play a large role in several campaigns planned for the spring semester.

“We have seen an increase in students using the Counseling Center and I want to be able to extend our resources. The second reason is I wanted to reach commuters and evening students,” said Christina Mick, Counseling Center assistant director of clinical services. “Research says a student is more likely to go to another student and they’ll be going to students who know how to refer them to the Counseling Center or to other resources.”

The grant money was used to purchase educational and training materials. Since the peer mentors are volunteers, Mick said the program will be able to continue beyond the grant.

Career Services

Traditionally focused on job placement and informational resources for upperclassmen, Career Services used the grant to implement a software system that will help to inform first-year students about available career resources and programs. The initiative aims to help keep students on track and on plan to graduate and achieve their career goals.

College of Education Student Success Center

The grant helped the Student Success Center purchase additional PRAXIS exam review materials, which all teacher candidates must pass to obtain their licenses, in collaboration with the college’s Learning Resources Center and the Angelo & Jennette Volpe Library.

The funding also helped support the creation of an information and education fair to introduce freshmen to professors, area teachers and career opportunities. The fair will be expanded for all education students in the spring.

Combined, Craig says the two initiatives should result in higher college retention and PRAXIS pass rates.

“I think a huge part of retaining our students is equipping them to be successful, not only with the PRAXIS but the fairs too, to meet College of Education faculty who will eventually be their instructors,” he said. “It’s a great way to start early to build relationships with them.”

The Feb. 5 colloquium will feature presentations from the learning support program, and the chemistry and counseling and psychology departments.

Learning Support Program

To help at-risk developmental math students pass their preparation for college-level algebra, the university’s Learning Support Program will institute this spring a peer-mentoring and tutoring program. The mentors will serve as additional academic support to the students who have been identified as at-risk but also, according to associate professor Debra Bryant, help them feel more connected to TTU.

“In my years in developmental education, I’ve seen that tutors have always done more than just help with the content,” she said. “They have provided support when students share life struggles that might keep them from being successful in college.”

If the program is successful, Bryant says she expects to see more students pass the class and fewer of them withdraw from the university.

Department of Chemistry

Several hundred students were able to get additional help in their chemistry courses last semester through a supplemental instruction program spearheaded by instructor Janet Coonce.

“The point of the program is for students to work problems with guidance from a student who has done well in the class,” said Coonce. “We’re doing this to help the students but we’re also doing it for the SI who benefits from the leadership experience.”

Three courses had a supplemental instructor, each of whom led between one and three evening help sessions a week and sat in on the course to assist the professor. Typically, about 20 students came to each evening session. The sessions were different from general tutoring because supplemental instructors knew their course and the professor’s goals.

Department of Counseling and Psychology

Counseling and psychology students often struggle with learning how to conduct research and analyze data. For about five years, the department has offered an information literacy course to give students time to learn the process using group work and projects.

The course has received good feedback and faculty have decided, with the grant funding, to add a peer-led team-based learning approach. It will feature peer leaders to provide additional guidance in addition to the instructor.

“We thought that having students who had done well in more advanced classes to assist and guide would make the students less intimidated because they could ask another student for help rather than the professor,” said Zac Wilcox, associate psychology professor.

The students will be surveyed frequently about how engaged they felt during the lesson. Students and peer leaders will also take the critical thinking assessment test at the beginning and end of the semester, to see if scores improve.

“We’ll be able to assess whether the peer mentors make a difference in the students’ education,” Wilcox said. “It may be a benefit to have a good role model.”