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REACH student tutor, program receive national honors

April 6th, 2009

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Scott Howard, left, works with a student at a REACH office on Belknap Campus.

Sometimes a student just needs a little extra assistance to make sense of a subject. Since 2000, the University of Louisville’s REACH has provided that help for undergraduate students at all levels of academic achievement.

In early April, the Association for the Tutoring Profession (ATP) will honor REACH and one of its master tutors at its annual conference.

REACH, which stands for Resources for Academic Achievement, was created in 2000 to improve student academic success at UofL. Services target students primarily in the first two years of study, which national retention studies suggest is when most students are likely to drop out.

ATP will present REACH with its 2009 Program of Excellence Award for its student employee training, scope of purpose and range of tutorial support to students.

The association will name senior biology major and honors scholar Scott Howard its Peer Tutor of the Year for 2009.

One of an average of 150 student employees who work for REACH each semester, Howard has tutored biology, chemistry and Spanish since his sophomore year. He will enter UofL’s School of Medicine in the fall and plans to return to his hometown of Topmost, Ky., a small rural area in the eastern part of the state, to practice medicine.

“I never expected or even dreamed of winning an award like this,” Howard said. “Receiving my international master tutor certification from CRLA (College Reading and Learning Association) was a big thing for me.”

Howard has a passion for helping others, said Julie Hohmann, his supervisor. He finds creative ways and real-life examples to explain difficult concepts, is extremely patient with students who may become frustrated with the material and empathizes with them when they have difficulty grasping a concept.

“I have been tutored a few times myself,” Howard said. “I think that helps the students relate to me because it shows that I am human too, unlike the professors whose knowledge can make them seem unapproachable.”

Howard also attributes his success to REACH’s tutor network.

“We have an abundance of tutors that serve as great role-models,” he said. “That is what makes our program so great. We have strong academic and peer networks that we can rely and build on. I can honestly say that most of what I do in my sessions was handed down to me through those networks. The truth is that we have several tutors that were probably just as qualified for the award as I am.

“I think what really helps me to stand out is that I apply myself completely,” he said. “Nothing is worth doing if it isn’t worth doing to the best of your ability.”

REACH tutors are certified at three levels by CLRA, which requires extensive and recurring training. The program also has among its student workers a culture of mentoring and support that mirrors some of its outreach to the university community.

“REACH student staff are not only bright and dedicated; they are an ongoing retention and persistence program in themselves since they create strong networks and friendships within the tutoring staff, support and encourage each other academically and identify strongly with REACH and the university,” said Dale Billingsley, vice provost for undergraduate affairs.

REACH started with a scheduled tutoring in a few subjects and a supplemental instruction program. Now it provides scheduled tutoring for more than 100 courses; drop-in tutoring for mathematics, computer science and computer literacy; and online real-time tutoring in mathematics, said Executive Director Cathy Leist.

But tutoring is only one of its services.

Its supplemental instruction and learning assistance program for course-specific study sessions and exam reviews now includes more than 50 course sections. REACH also operates a digital media suite in collaboration with the Delphi Center and Ekstrom Library and gives study strategies workshops and monthly seminars on mathematics, computer science, student success and graduate admission exams. The Academic Development Office also provides academic advising and “coaching” for university-identified high-risk student populations. The REACH Ambassadors provide a leadership and social engagement peer mentoring program for first-year students.

REACH also regularly collaborates with undergraduate units across campus, Leist said.

“Statistics show that students who use REACH services consistently are more likely to succeed academically and persist into the third year of college study,” Billingsley said.

For REACH, the award is “recognition of a job well-done,” Leist said. “Our staff of professional and classified employees, our 15 graduate assistants and our 150 student employees are now recognized for the work completed each day to help students succeed at UofL. And it is a shared recognition because of the many campus partners who support us and in so doing, help this work, including the provost’s office and faculty, university staff and student organizations.

“To me,” she continued, “it is an honor for all of us to be recognized and to see REACH achieve maturity as an academic support unit.”

Editor’s Note: REACH will have a cake and brownie reception to celebrate the awards Thursday, April 16, noon–2 p.m., in the Strickler Hall lobby and in the Welcome Center off the lobby in Room 126. The campus community is invited.

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