Willamette University has recently been awarded a Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust grant worth $40,000. The grant will fund a series of new Academic Support programs created with a focus on supporting first-generation and underrepresented college students. The programs, which are set to launch this fall, will be available to all Willamette students.
Specifically, the grant will allow for the creation of three new and unique programs: peer academic coaching, supplemental instruction and motivational interviewing. According to the Director of Academic Support Kelvin Clark, all three of the programs were created with an awareness of student development theory: the idea that a student’s academic success is determined by far more than their intellectual capabilities. The programs will place a strong emphasis on the student’s emotional and personal development in addition to teaching more conventional academic strategies.
One of the programs, peer academic coaching, is already underway. This past fall and current spring semester, 15 Willamette students have either completed or enrolled in a half semester class that will certify them to be academic coaches during the fall of 2020. According to Clark, the class will teach students to help their peers improve their academic mindset and behaviors. This means providing them strategies to improve their attendance, or teaching them ways to persevere through setbacks.
“When you’re meeting with a student and they’re ready to drop out of school because they failed a quiz, it is not necessarily related to their academic abilities. You’re managing their emotions. The frustration is with the school, themselves and the outcome… You don’t just focus on the grade, you focus on the student as a person,” said Clark.
The program also places a strong emphasis on teaching first-generation college students how to navigate unfamiliar systems and resources at Willamette. According to Clark, a large part of this means providing first-generation students with “cultural capital.”
Cultural capital is the idea that different students have different privileges and knowledge based on the community they grew up in. For example, a student whose parents went to college is more likely to understand how to navigate certain systems within Willamette than students whose parents did not attend college. Clark said that a large aim of the peer tutoring program is to increase the transparency of many institutions at Willamette.
“Particularly with the peer academic coaching program, the goal is to help first-generation, low income, not from Salem [students]. How can we make everything that’s implicit, explicit for a first-generation college student? We want to be really transparent with financial aid, registration, course selection, why we choose a major, where the resources are, how you access them and when you access them,” said Clark.
Supplemental instruction is another program the grant will fund. The Supplemental Instruction Program is designed specifically to assist students in “high risk courses,” or classes where Ds, Fs and withdrawals occur the most frequently. Courses that are part of this program will provide peer teachers who not only have taken and succeeded in these courses, but who are also attending the course again. Peer teachers meet with the professor of the course twice a week to communicate what materials are most important for enrolled students to understand.
The peer teachers will then designate instructional time outside of class to teach material specific to the course. Clark said that this is a crucial aspect of the program, since different professors differ on areas of focus even when teaching the same course.
The last program the grant will fund is “motivational interview.” Motivational interview is a technique to uncover the motivations behind a student’s academic habits. Clark said this is a process for students to understand why their goals do not align with their actions: “You say you want to get As, but you don’t go to class. There needs to be a systematic way how to question this.”
According to Clark, a primary goal of the three new programs that will launch in the fall semester is to allow for more students to use the services at Academic Support. Clark said that all three of these programs have the advantage that they rely on peer support, meaning that these programs will be available after regular hours, as well as more accessible for students who may not want to schedule an appointment days in advance.
“Right now about 10 percent of students use my services. What I want students to know is I’m providing these different access points to resources, because I know students need help in different ways. When you need help, seek it and we will try to provide,” said Clark.