New classroom gig pays off

Learning Center creates “peer catalyst” position

By on September 15, 2010

A cup of coffee doesn’t always have to be just a cup of coffee.

In some instances, a meeting with coffee involved can result in an entirely new experience for the Quinnipiac community. When Professor Mark Hoffman sat down for coffee with Andrew Delohery, director of the Learning Center, what was once Hoffman’s “brainchild” soon became the Peer Catalyst Program.

A peer catalyst (PC) is a student who has previously taken a professor’s course and is invited back to be a mentor as an ongoing source of information and help for the class. Thus far, this program is held exclusively within the QU seminars, and it has not been decided if the program will venture out into other areas.

“We are working in a program that is very important to the core curriculum, the QU series, and we think we know what we are doing,” Delohery said. “But it’s just like anything: there is a sender and a receiver of the message. We are trying to figure out how many places we can put some type of quality control to figure out if what we believe we are sending, is actually being received on the part of the student.”

From the onset of this program last year, there has been an increase in the involvement. The sections of QU 101 with a PC in the class has increased from three last fall to a total of five this semester.

The main idea behind this program is that “first year students get to know one of their academic peers, preferably a second year student, as an exemplar of social intelligence and intellectual focus,” QU 101 Seminar Coordinator Timothy Dansdill said. “If this Peer does not ‘catalyze’ (help them ignite a lasting passion for making new knowledge), then the failure will not be in the PC, but in a given student’s ignorance of their own ability to be their own agent of change.”

After one more year of an experimental method, Hoffman hopes that the program will be fully evolved.

While regulations are still being discussed, the PC is expected to attend a majority of the classes, and duties within that class period are determined at the professor’s discretion. They also have to fill out weekly reports, and attend meetings where all professors and PC’s discuss their experiences up to date.

“I let the PC decide how they have wanted to use their own skills and knowledge to enhance the course,” Professer Aileen Dever, a two-year participant in the Peer Catalyst Program, said. “They have free reign in that sense, but with the overarching idea that we are really trying to reinforce reading, speaking, and writing, but also opening students’ minds, giving them different perspectives, different ideas to consider so that they walk out of class talking about these ideas.”

In order to become a full-fledged Peer Catalyst, the selected individual must go through a day long training session, much like adjunct faculty training, to become equipped with what is expected of them.

The individuals who serve as Peer Catalysts are paid through the Learning Center. However, the Office of Academic Affairs funds the collective experiment.

This program is unlike a Teacher’s Assistant program, and should not be considered one. Nonetheless, Peer Catalysts are trained to step in and take over the class if the professor is unavailable.

“A lot of freshman can have a hard time to adopt to that kind of thinking because it is hard to think intellectually,” sophomore PC Rebecca Muller said. “It is not stressed in our culture today. The PC is the middle intermediator and can understand both sides.”

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