Friday, August 16, 2019

STEM Learning Resources Vital to Student Success in Math, Science and Beyond

Shuan McKellar raises his hand during a recent training for STEM tutors.

When Shaun McKellar was growing up, he didn’t develop a strong background in math and science. After enrolling at Salt Lake Community College in 2016, he soon discovered the college offered STEM (science,technology, engineering and mathematics) Learning Resources, which he credits with helping him earn associate degrees in electrical engineering and particle physics.

McKellar, 21, is currently pursuing bachelor’s degrees in both disciplines at the University of Utah. “Growing up I never had a strong STEM background,” McKellar says. “When I got into college, I accepted that I needed extra help to catch up.” Now, however, the student is the tutor, and he comes back to SLCC to tutor in the same places where he once sought help.

Student and tutor work together at South City Campus.

Free tutoring through STEM Learning includes help in subjects like biology, math, chemistry, physics, engineering, biotechnology and geosciences. Walk-ins and appointments are accepted at learning centers located on all of SLCC’s main campuses. There are also workshops and concept-based project support and an annual symposium for students to present their research and projects. STEM Learning Resources helps build students’ self-confidence, promote critical thinking skills and encourages an active, hands-on learning environment.

Like a lot of SLCC students who use STEM tutors and workshops away from the classroom, McKellar had help with homework and projects and ultimately with passing some classes. He liked visiting the Dumke Center for STEM Learning at the SLCC Taylorsville Redwood Campus to seek, in his words, “a palpable academic atmosphere and to be surrounded by people who are much more learned on certain topics and who could help me achieve more success in those areas.”

Devan Church helps keep the Dumke Center and others like it on each of SLCC’s major campuses offering resources students need. “I want students to achieve their goals academically so that they can achieve their goals beyond higher education,” says Church, who is a workshop manager for STEM Learning Resources. His position was created when funding became available in 2016 through a $2.23 million grant from the Department of Education’s Strengthening Institutions program. Church works with faculty to offer workshops that help students struggling in math, in particular at the 980 level, to provide review time before tests and quizzes and to offer concept-based workshops.

Students and tutors collaborate at the Dumke Center for STEM Learning.

STEM Learning Resources at SLCC provides students about 50 paid part-time tutors who are former students, like McKellar, and people of all ages and professional backgrounds. They work from 10 to 30 hours per week. “Our tutors are making a big difference,” says Dani Smull, coordinator of the Dumke and Markosian Library STEM centers on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus. SLCC also has centers at its Jordan and South City campuses and the West Valley Center. “I hear constantly from students who are very fearful of math – and we have a lot of students at the college who are fearful of math – say, ‘I wouldn’t have passed this class without my tutor,’” Smull adds.

The goal now is to increase outreach so that more students will take advantage of STEM Learning Resources. Renee Mixco, STEM Success Mentor, is working with faculty members and contacting students directly when red flags – failing grades, poor attendance – pop up and is talking to them about tutoring resources and workshops as well as the Math Success Center located in the Markosian Library on the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.

Meanwhile, tutors like McKellar and others will be vital toward the ongoing goals of increased retention and success of students struggling in STEM-related courses. “I just have a passion for teaching people,” McKellar says. “I love it when I’m helping someone on a topic they’re confused about and show them a new way to think about it and to see that lightbulb come on, to hear them say they’re ready to solve those problems.”