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How Students Help Students To Build Careers And Community

When he was studying in Calbright’s IT Support program, Williams Flores noticed something:  some students seemed like they were afraid to ask for help when they needed it.

“They didn’t have to be,” he remembered. “Calbright’s not like that. The professors responded to everything I asked and were very helpful.” But he understood it. College, especially for people trying it for the first time, can be intimidating. It can be frightening to speak up. But he wished something could be done about it.

As it happened, a program at Calbright was being developed to address that very issue, and now Williams is part of the solution as an Experiential Learning and Leadership (ExLL) peer tutor.

“We saw a gap in our services, and we saw an opportunity to improve tutoring resources for Calbright students,” said Leena Her, Calbright’s dean of learning services. “Our Academic Support Center had reading and writing tutors, and computer skills tutors, and our instructors are available to work with students, but we were seeing an increasing number of requests for subject matter tutoring coming in from students. At the same time, students were creating this robust community on our Slack channels. Students were connecting with each other to create study groups, to share learning resources, to ask questions about course content, and to support each other. So we connected the dots: why not create a program to encourage and support peer to peer learning. Students often find other students more approachable, and this is a way we can create more connections between students, and between students and Calbright!”

“It really helps,” Flores agreed. “Students who might not reach out to an instructor will talk to us, and we’ve gone through the class already and have also been trained in how to offer support.”

It’s also a job that students can put on their resume, demonstrating real world experience.  

Building Jobs Out Of Community

Founded in late 2022, the ExLL program hires Calbright students for six-month long internships as peer tutors and student ambassadors. The program is designed to create work experience and leadership opportunities for current students and alumni. Interns apply the skills and knowledge learned in their Calbright program of study to support other students and staff. According to Richard Garcia, Calbright’s academic support center coordinator, “they apply the same way they would for any job, but we also give students feedback on their interviews, so that they can learn from the experience too.”

Students who are hired go through a month of training in tutoring strategies and practices along with technical competencies in their subject matter. That training includes shadowing the previous cohort of tutors during their last month on the job, so that they can see first hand what a tutoring session looks like and how it works. Throughout the six-month internship, students attend bi-weekly leadership development trainings led by Student and Alumni Relations Manager Amna Jara, and are mentored by Garcia.

Kit Atarod, who graduated from Calbright’s IT program and is now a student in its Cybersecurity program, is in the newest cohort of ExLL tutors, which started in April. “It’s amazing,” she said.

“I’m so happy to be in it. I get to connect more with different kinds of people who are in the course. When they have problems I’m so glad when I can help them, and if I can’t I can refer them to the right resources. And the course provides its own training, so there’s a lot I can learn too. It’s really exciting!”

Trying New Things And Learning What Works

Feedback on the program has been excellent so far, with 88% of participating students saying that working with a peer tutor has made them feel more connected to the college, 87% of participating students say that working with a peer tutor has helped them progress with their assignments, and 90% of participating students saying that working with a peer tutor has increased their motivation to continue the program and earn their course certificate.

As the program grows, Garcia said, it is also expanding its offerings.

“We’re learning what our capabilities are, what students want, what’s working and not working,” he said. “Right now students have access to individualized tutoring, and to drop-in tutoring twice a day, morning and evening. What we’re looking to offer next is recurring weekly tutoring where students will have standing appointments with a tutor and won’t have to worry about availability. We’re looking to add content-specific study groups as well.”

Meanwhile, ExLL tutors also give faculty feedback on what they see students struggling with, Her said, so that faculty can adjust the program and curriculum to better help future students.

“Our students are very proactive that way,” she said, “which helps us tremendously. It’s become not just a program of support, but a community of support.”

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