October 5, 2012
Tutors help keep the knowledge—and the questions—flowing at MSU Billings Academic Support Center
Ben Barckholtz, Academic Support Services, 657-1714
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269
MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — It’s chilly mid-morning in early October. The fall semester barely a month old, some students at Montana State University Billings are still being weaned off a steady summer diet of sleep and pop-culture immersion.
But smack dab in the middle of the remodeled Student Union Building, the MSU Billings Academic Support Center is wide away and buzzing with activity. Three dozen computer stations are filled with students trying to figure out complex equations for a math class or how to structure a paragraph for an English assignment. And smack dab in the middle of all that are a host of tutors, helping students make sense of it all.
Whether college students show up confused, frustrated or anything in between, a cohort of tutors are on hand at the ASC. They are a vital link between students and classroom faculty, encouraging and assisting students who need the help without stepping in and doing their work for them.
One of them is Yvette Gonzalez-Quevdo. She earned her biology degree from MSU Billings this past April and is working on graduate studies. When not planning her next steps toward her graduate studies, she can be found 18 hours a week in the ASC study lab. On one recent day, she was sandwiched between two students sorting out chemistry and math problems.
“I love helping people,” she said. “The best part is seeing the joy they have when they understand and solve problems on their own.”
Justin Wiebe, who coordinates the tutor efforts for the ASC, said about 60 people make up the part-time instructor and tutor corps at the university. They work at both the university campus in the SUB and at the City College (formerly the College of Technology) in the Technology Trades Building. Some are college students with expertise in a certain subject. Some are recent graduates who enjoy helping others. Some are retired individuals who like the college atmosphere.
One of those is Nancy Traeger. She worked at Eastern Montana College and then MSU Billings from 1983 to 2002 in administrative support roles in various administrative offices. When she retired, she fell in love with tutoring English and has remained there since.
“I like to ask questions and get them to think in another way,” she said.
The ASC at the university campus has a new vibe to it this fall. Located adjacent to a coffee shop and a pencil’s throw away from the campus store, the tutors and employees have a new visibility.
The center, a one-of-a-kind venture the Montana University System when it was started just after the turn of this century, was always a busy place. But with plans to remodel the SUB came a new vision to connect students in a more inviting atmosphere.
The former Academic Support Center, which is at least 50 years old, was once the SUB and had become the home of developmental math and writing classes to prepare students for college-level work as well as free tutoring in math, writing, reading, science and foreign languages. The facility provided more than 18,000 hours of tutoring and developmental education last academic year.
Equally as important, the ASC had become a gathering place for hundreds of commuter students who sought a comfortable place to study, check e-mail or check in with a tutor between classes. On average, at least 300 individual students visit the center each week, with many coming back multiple times, said Ben Barckholtz, the ASC director. Even though the building was well-used by many commuter students, the well-worn structure wasn’t viewed as an appealing place to hang out for the students who live in the residence halls.
The SUB, meanwhile, has an open and inviting atmosphere where residence hall students, student-led organizations, caffeine seekers and student government leaders gather. But the SUB wasn’t attracting the off-campus students, who have long had a culture of arriving on campus to attend class, leave for a break and then return for the next class.
On first glance this semester, the collaborative design and function is paying off. Students lounge with a coffee outside the coffee shop as they wait for their tutor appointment. The computers are filled between classes and the activity rarely slows down. It had an appropriate celebratory feel to it this week for National Tutor Week.
“It’s just a good place to be,” Traeger says with a smile.
Academic Support Center hours are:
- Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Closed Saturday
- Sunday 6-9 p.m.
City College Campus:
- Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
PHOTOS ABOVE: Yvette Gonzalez-Quevdo, center, works with a student recently at the Academic Support Center at MSU Billings. Below is Nancy Traeger, who has been a tutor at MSU Billings since 2002.