Project Gateways offers enhanced tutoring services for students

FIU’s Project Gateways is already making an impact when it comes to student retention and passing rates.

The collaborative project, Opening the Gateway: The High Tech High Touch Initiative,  is designed to help students, especially Hispanics, by focusing on issues specific to them.

“We know that FIU’s student population is predominantly Hispanic and, often times, they’re the first in their family to attend college,” said Edda Juarez, project director. “Initiatives like Project Gateways provide additional academic support to help them succeed. When our students successfully graduate, they’re able to give back to their families and communities. Everybody wins.”

Project Gateways, sponsored by a U.S. Department of Education Title V grant, enhances the core competencies, including reading, writing, and math skills, of students through individualized educational techniques and peer mentoring activities. These activities, including curriculum enhancements and supplements, faculty development, and peer tutoring, are designed to assist them in effectively transitioning from high school or community college to a research university.

One of Project Gateway’s initiatives is to improve student performance in certain Gateway courses through enhanced tutoring services. These individualized, “high-tech, high-touch” services are offered online and face-to-face at both the Modesto A. Maidique and Biscayne Bay campuses.

The Mastery Math Lab, which recently opened in the Green Library, is fully staffed with 30 lab assistants at the disposal of college algebra and intermediate algebra students. With more than 200 computers, students use My Labs Plus software to complete weekly homework assignments and prepare for exams. This initiative has already increased passage rates.

“There are big advantages to using learning assistants as part of your studying regimen,” said Junior Pena, senior learning assistant at the Mastery Math Lab. “We deal with the common struggles of students on a weekly basis and come up with multiple alternatives to teach problem solving. Sometimes, students feel more comfortable telling us what’s working and not working in the classroom, so we also serve as liasons for them and their professors.”

Students taking these math courses also benefit from online math tutoring services, offered by the Center for Academic Success. The online tutoring initiative encourages students to contact their tutors after hours through Adobe Connect software.

The Center for Academic Success also offers reading peer tutoring to individuals and small groups in the humanities with writing courses. The tutors, all certified by the College Reading and Learning Association, are trained to teach strategies needed for enhanced reading skills, active learning and independent thinking.

“Peer tutoring offers a unique kind of teacher-student relationship,” said Vicenta Shepard, reading and learning coordinator for the Center for Academic Success. “Students that come to us can ask their peer mentors questions they might not feel comfortable asking their teachers or even me. The peer tutors look like them and are students just like them, so the empathy factor is there.”

The Writing Center for Excellence offers a Writing Fellows Program that is funded by Title V. Designed to use writing as a means of learning, the program uses face-to-face tutoring to increase the number of students earning a passing grade in humanities with writing courses and other writing-intensive courses in a variety of majors. More than 40 fellows are assigned to 450 students within a course and meet with them per revision and critique of a given written assignment. The center also offers Adobe Connect, allowing students to personally interact with tutors during writing sessions without having to be present at the center.

“The center and its programs establish a conversation between two stranger. The results are successful,” said Charles Donate, Title V coordinator for the Writing Center for Excellence. “The students benefit because they learn that revision is essential in the writing process. Revision helps them think critically and thoughtfully about what they’re writing. It encourages them to take stock in their writing and helps them realize what they’re writing does matter and people are listening.”

These enhanced tutoring services are not only beneficial to the students that take advantage of them, but to the learning assistants and tutors themselves. Students who might be interested in teaching can use these opportunities to evaluate their interest in teaching careers.

“Many of our peer tutors are education majors, but we have plenty of tutors from diverse majors,” Shepard said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for them as well because they get a taste of what it’s like to teach. It’s a training tool for them — they get to deal with issues now that they’ll encounter later again in the work force.”

Title V grants are awarded to Hispanic-Serving Institutions in order to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students. The grants also allow the institutions to expand and enhance academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability.

Project Gateways is lead by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Kenneth G. Furton, along with Undergraduate Education Dean Douglas Roberston, Arts & Sciences Associate Dean Gisela Casinas, and School of Integrated Science & Humanity Executive Director Suzana Rose.

By Evelyn S. Perez