Peer fellows lend a hand in classes

By on February 1, 2012

Quinnipiac offers a variety of avenues for academic assistance to its students, one of which includes a peer being an academic aide for another student inside the classroom through the Peer Study Group Program.

Peer fellows are students who are picked by their professors to act as mentors for challenging classes they excelled in. The paid fellows are given many different responsibilities such as attending all classes, holding study sessions and coordinating with professors to better serve the learning needs of the students.

There is a wide variety of courses that have the assistance of a peer fellow in the sciences, mathematics, history and business, according to Tracy Hallstead, director of the peer fellows program.

Students who utilize peer fellows have shown notable improvements that are reflected in their final grade in the course. According to Hallstead, students who attend three or more sessions of Supplemental Instruction with a peer fellow often receive a full letter grade higher than a student who does not.

“The pattern of students earning higher grades when they attend Supplemental Instruction with a peer fellow is consistent across our program,” Hallstead said. “The difference between a C+ and a B+ may mean everything to a student, especially if he or she has a GPA requirement for their major.”

Andrew Lavoie is a peer fellow for Nita Prasad’s History 208 modern world history class.

“My favorite part about being a peer fellow is working with students who are interested in the material and helping them succeed,” Lavoie said. “I also like that I get to work closely with a professor who I really enjoy.”

Peer fellow for Finance 201 Michael Sarin said that his role is to be a model student, to be attentive and focused in class and to take notes during the lecture. Outside of the classroom, he holds weekly study sessions during which the focus is on getting students to work through their problem areas from the week’s material.

“Our goal is not to give them the answers,” Sarin said. “We strive to teach students how to learn and be dynamic, not just memorize the material.”

Lavoie and Sarin, along with the rest of the peer fellows, are hired through the Learning Center once they are chosen by their professors, and are required to attend several informational and training sessions. Prasad and Lavoie both said they believe the students benefit from having a peer fellow to mentor them.

“A lot of times students are reluctant to open up to a professor, so having someone around their age to talk about what they think of the course is helpful,” Prasad said. “The students can talk to their peer fellows in a more relaxed, casual way.”

The goal of a peer fellow is to help the students in the class understand the material for the course, develop better strategies for studying and completing assignments and to help the students learn at a deeper level, Prasad said.

“I have never had a negative experience so far with the peer fellows I have had,” Prasad said. “The only problem I can see arising is if the peer fellow just gives the students the answers, causing the students to leave the course without gaining any skills or knowledge.”

Students who have taken courses with a peer fellow have given positive feedback of their experience. Sophomore Alex Burgos took Prasad’s History 112 class with peer fellow Giana Gleeson.

“Giana was definitely a big asset to the class and made the material more understandable because she was our age and able to connect with us better than the professor,” Burgos said. “She also helped out a lot during finals because she was going through them as well and had a lot of advice to give.”

Not only do peer fellows help the students and professors, but they are able to learn and help themselves as well.

“It really is an incredible opportunity for the peer fellow because they get to experience a hands-on way of learning,” Prasad said. “Teaching is the most deep, meaningful way of actually learning.”

This semester, the Peer Study Group Program will be recruiting heavily as they are losing 15 seniors to graduation, Hallstead said. The classes they support include Chemistry 106, Chemistry 210, Biology 211, Math 140 and 141, Accounting 305 and 306, and Finance 201. They have also recently added new courses such as History 208, Athletic Training 215 and 338, and Biomedical Sciences 375 to the program. To be considered for the program, the students must have a recommendation from their former professor in the class and have earned a grade of A- or better.

 Kim Green contributed reporting to this story.

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