|September 30, 2011|
College peers, community members work as tutors to pave way to success for MSU Billings students
By Dan Carter
There’s barely a seat to be found in the learning lab and the energy level is palpable. Conversations are ongoing about solving chemistry equations, sorting out a writing assignment or determining the value of that pesky “y” in a math problem.
In the midst of it all are tutors, laser-like focus on the student they have right next to them. Other discussions or the allure of an 80-degree day are shunned in favor of giving that student a leg up in their science, English or math class at Montana State University Billings.
For many of the students getting help through the Academic Support Centers at MSU Billings, the tutors are peers, other students with high academic skills and a penchant for patience.
The learning and tutoring centers at both the four-year campus and the two-year College of Technology employ 37 tutors to help students navigate challenges in everything from writing clear paragraphs to wringing out the details of a complex science assignment. Another 20 developmental education teachers also provide tutoring.
To honor the work of those tutors during National Tutor Appreciation Week, the Academic Support Centers at both campuses will have an open house with refreshments on Monday, Oct. 3 from 2-4 p.m. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to stop by and learn more about the centers and what they have to offer.
The biggest points of pride, many say, are the people. Some are retired Billings residents, alumni or others simply willing to help students succeed. Many are fellow students with particular academic skills.
They are people like Amanda Muscha, a 23-year-old math whiz. Muscha (pronounced Mu-shay) came to MSU Billings in the fall of 2009 from Williston State College in North Dakota. A reduced tuition rate thanks to the Western Undergraduate Exchange program got her to Billings, but the math program sealed the deal to stay.
She is now working on a teaching option in math and physics, but has found a new connection with the university through tutoring.
“I really enjoy what I do here,” Muscha said with a smile. “How many times do I get to show off my math skills while I’m also working on it?”
And she has had plenty of chances to show her skills. Whether she is roaming the math area or taking an appointment, she carries with her a calm and easy demeanor that attracts other students. The short-cropped metallic red hairdo doesn’t hurt.
“I really like the casual, peer-to-peer relationship,” she said.
Jen King also appreciates that peer-to-peer relationship, but for different reasons.
King, who graduated high school at Billings Senior in 1998 and then moved to Minnesota where she started a family, is one of the most sought-after computer tutors at the COT. Not that long ago, however, she needed tutoring services of her own.
She and her husband moved back to Billings in 2009 and she started classes to pursue an associate’s degree in the Medical Administrative Assistant program. She is a first-generation student (her parents or siblings did not pursue college) and has laser-like determination. The 31-year-old found out early on, however, her math skills were not where they needed to be.
“I couldn’t have gotten through that first semester without coming in here,” she said while sitting among fellow students and tutors at the COT. “It’s because I’m horrible at math.”
She credits Eric Gilbertson, a math specialist at the COT, for getting her through that trying time.
“The way he could interact and with students of all ages was amazing,” she said. “If you worked really hard and did what you could, then he would help you.”
King, who is eight months pregnant and working on 16 credits this fall, is also carrying a full load of tutoring at the COT. As she walks through the ASC on the West End campus, there is rarely a time when someone doesn’t stop her to ask a question about a Microsoft Access issue or to clarify an Outlook question.
“What I like is when a student comes in with a sense of panic and leaves after they become more familiar with the subject,” she said.
As if by magic, the “ah-ha” moments of discovery are gratifying.
“The sense that I’m needed is really rewarding.”
The ASC offers classes in reading, developmental math and developmental writing. The centers provide tutoring for multiple subjects including math, writing, reading, science, psychology and foreign languages. All tutoring services are offered free on a drop-in basis because students pay for the service in their fees.
Tutoring is also available online for math, science and writing projects.
To find out more, go to www.msubillings.edu/asc/ or call 657-1641 at the four-year campus or 247-3022 at the College of Technology.
PHOTOS ABOVE: Montana State University Billings student and tutor Amanda Muscha, left, works with another MSU Billings student on a math project Friday at the MSU Billings Academic Support Center. Below, are photos of Muscha and COT student and tutor Jen King.