Cornerstone expands services, offers help for new courses

Rory Mather | Contributing Reporter

This fall, Cornerstone offerings will extend beyond introductory math and science courses with the addition of help desks for new courses.

Cornerstone, long the center for academic resources for students, especially those struggling in introductory math and science courses, will now offer help for higher-level math and science courses as well as courses in psychology, art history, Spanish and business.

Veteran programs, such as Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) and Residential Peer Mentors (RPM), provide students with trained tutors in subjects such as chemistry, calculus and physics. However, outside of these areas, the only academic resource Cornerstone could offer students was appointment-based one-on-one tutoring. This entailed students making an appointment and waiting for Cornerstone to find someone both qualified and willing to tutor them.

Cornerstone threw out the appointment-based tutoring system last year, deciding instead to focus on providing students with more open help desks. Professor and Director of Cornerstone Janet Duchek noted that the one-on-one mentoring program simply wasn’t being utilized, adding that this switch allows Cornerstone to reach a wider population of students.

“This platform allows us to focus on the large, introductory courses,” Duchek said. “Our focus is to help students transition into the University because these courses require a different type of learning than high school. By teaching students study skills in these introductory courses, they can later apply those techniques to their higher-level courses.”

This year, Cornerstone is continuing to offer academic programs for all calculus levels (Math 131, 132 and 233) and General Chemistry (Chem 111 and 112), as well as help desks for Introduction to Physics (Physics 197 and 198) and Introduction to Statistics (Math 2200).

The new help desks will provide students assistance with Introduction to Psychological Statistics (Psych 300), Introduction to Asian Art (Art-Arch 111), Introduction to Western Art (Art-Arch 113), all Spanish courses up to the 300-level, Managerial Statistics I and II (QBA 120 and 121), Principles of Financial Accounting (ACCT 2610) and Microeconomics (MEC 290).

New higher-level math and science help desks will be offered for Matrix Algebra (Math 309), Differential Equations (Math 217) and Organic Chemistry (Chem 251 and 252).

Jay Sriram, assistant director for academic programs, stated that these courses were chosen as a product of multiple student focus groups and conversations with department heads across campus.

“We had student focus groups where we asked them where they would like Cornerstone to focus on moving forward,” Sriram said. “We also met with the deans and instructors of multiple courses and asked what courses are the most challenging. Our idea is that the mentors are more knowledgeable about what challenges the students are going to face.”

These help desks will provide students with open office hours where they can not only review class material and specific questions but also learn study skills necessary to succeed.

All help desks will be staffed with undergraduate tutors who have previously taken the courses and obtained an A- or higher. Both Cornerstone and course instructors review students who apply for positions, and new tutors are also required to attend a seminar class in which they learn different theories in student development.

Cornerstone’s new help desks are still in their experimental phase. What is offered this fall could be swapped out or eliminated as early as this spring, depending on participation and performance.

“During the semester, we are going to look at the usage data and make adjustments as we need them to the help desks. At the end of the semester and again at the end of the school year, we’ll look back at the usage data and determine whether to keep offering a help desk based on its utilization and performance,” Duchek said.

Junior Andrew Wang, an economics and art history major, is skeptical about the ways Cornerstone can help in less math- and science-heavy courses such as art history.

“I feel like it will be difficult to sustain smaller, niche classes in the future. For art history, I don’t really know how these help desks will be different than [teaching assistants], especially if they are only offering study help. I guess it’s mostly helpful if you live on the [South] 40,” said Wang.

According to Duchek, it is ultimately up to the students to guide Cornerstone in what resources are going to be most effective for them.

“You know best what you need, and we are open to feedback from students,” Duchek said.

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