|New Math and Science Center Provides Davidson Students with Peer-to-Peer Help
March 23, 2010
Contact: John Syme
|Lauren Nelson '13 gets a chemistry lesson in the Math and Science Center from Matthew Surdel '10.
Davidson College students facing the academic rigors of algorithmic derivatives, quantum wave dynamics or D. melanogaster genetics have a new place to go on campus for help. The Davidson College Math and Science Center offers free peer support to students during late evening hours, in a dedicated space in Belk Residence Hall adjacent to one of the campus's largest computer labs.
Early reviews are thumbs up.
Tutor Caroline Vaughan '10 sees her job in terms of different styles of teaching and learning, and as a resource in support of Davidson students' close academic relationships with their professors.
"Office hours are great, and I love talking to my professors," said Vaughan, a physics major who will study engineering at UC Berkeley next year. Now, she said, the center's evening hours will provide even more opportunities for extra help in students' busy schedules. And tutors themselves are learning how to teach, said Vaughan. "You could explain something 15 times, and then when you draw it once, they get it immediately. Or you might come at something from an energy standpoint instead of in terms of Newton's Law."
That diversity of approaches works for Jake Thompson '12, of Newtown Square, Pa. He uses the center's math resources to help with economics, which he studies alongside Spanish with an eye toward international business.
"I usually just come down here to start my homework," Thompson said. Sometimes, he said, it seems like "the hard way" is his starting point. And peer tutors "get" that. "They can put things in layman's terms and it makes a lot more sense. They're really patient with you because they do the same homework with a lot of people a lot of times!"
Tutor Daniel Martin '11, of Dothan, Ala., focuses on helping students learn ways of approaching any problem, rather than simply focusing on the one problem in front of them. After all, he said, "On the test, the problem's going to be different."
The center is funded as part of a $1.5-million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said Verna Case, the Beverly F. Dolan Professor of Biology. When that grant was awarded, Davidson hired Assistant Professor of Biology Mark Barsoum to be the center's new director.
"In addition to his biology background, Mark is very interested in how people learn and in the development of new pedagogical approaches for math and science," said Case.
|(l-r) David Wang '12 and Daniel Martin '11 work on a problem with Caroline Vaughan '10.
"We've reached a lot of students already in our inaugural semester," said Barsoum. "We get about 80 visits per week by students seeking help across all the disciplines we serve - math, physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology. And we've really benefited from the support of all the faculty in these disciplines and the commitment to the program by the administration."
The center's location, which is central to living, dining and computing facilities, is a plus, said David Wang '12 and Daniel Martin '11 working with Caroline Vaughan '10. Associate Professor of Mathematics Michael Mossinghoff, who ran the college's previous math tutoring center.
"The new center is a terrific resource for the students," he said. "They can come as a group or individually and work on problems, and if a question comes up, there's someone there who can help."
The center's hours-9 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday-are also a plus.
In addition to one-on-one and small-group tutoring by qualified peers, the center offers recap sessions before scheduled tests, computers with course software, assessment of personal learning styles, and a welcoming atmosphere for study groups and social gatherings. Future plans include workshops on successful study habits for the sciences, options for online help, and support for students seeking extracurricular, graduate and career opportunities in the sciences and math, said Barsoum.
The math and science center is a perfect fit with the college's Strategic Plan, adopted by the Board of Trustees last fall. The plan includes the goal of creating "a Center for Teaching and Learning that supports academic pursuits of students and faculty, incorporating programs in writing, oral communication, digital literacy, tutoring, mathematics and science, support for students with special needs, and others."
"What we find is that not all students are equally prepared for introductory courses," said Case. "The center helps us even the playing field for all students to succeed in all gateway courses. And we hope to encourage more math and science majors."
Encouraging more science majors comes naturally for physics major Lindsey Martin '11, of Dalton, Ga."It was these beginning classes that made me enjoy physics so much I wanted to major in it," said Martin. (Martin has also mastered the physics of swimming.
The number of students using the center in its first month of operation ranged from five to 35 on any given night, fluctuating on the basis of class schedules and mid-term tests (a directly proportional relationship) or Spring Break (an inversely proportional relationship).
"The tutors are all involved in the same kind of classes, so we can pick up the slack when there are a lot of people in here," said Nadia Brashier '12 of Dahlonega, Ga. Brashier, normally a math tutor, was helping fellow physics student Sophia Aleksandravicus '13 of Pound Ridge, N.Y., with related rates of how radius, height, and volume change over time.
For both tutors and students at the Math and Science Center, regularly occurring "Eureka!" moments make all the effort worthwhile.
"That's the best part of being a tutor," said Vaughan, "is when someone says, ‘Oh my God, that makes so much sense!'"
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.