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Peer tutoring relieves academic stress

November 16, 2006

For a student who is struggling academically, the thought of asking a professor for help may seem intimidating.

Pre-major Advisor Justin Hauer had this in mind when he developed the study symposium program three years ago on the UW-River Falls campus.

The sessions, which take place twice a week, offer students the chance to study and receive tutoring in a peer-based environment.

Running from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., they are held Thursdays in the Davee Library and Sundays in the Wyman Education Building.

“What they’re designed to be is an opportunity for students to have real concentrated study time, whether it’s just to study individually or in a group, or with technology-assisted study,” Hauer said.

According to a memo sent to all of the colleges on campus, the program “has helped more than 160 at-risk students form positive study habits” since its inception.

This semester, readmitted students from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) and select students from the men’s basketball, football and hockey teams are participating, bringing the current program total to 72.

Students attending the sessions said they appreciate having a couple of hours a week devoted strictly to homework.

CAFES sophomore Carl Sackreiter said he has experienced a “50 percent improvement” in grades due to participating in the program.

“I feel it’s effective because it takes away a lot of distractions you may have,” he said.

Freshman football player John Bratcher echoed Sackreiter’s opinion.

“It helps you stay focused,” he said of the study sessions.

Bratcher said he understands why his coach requires him to attend.

“They just set this up to show that school’s first and football’s second, because you need school to play football anyway,” he said.

Hauer said the sessions give students the advantage of studying in an atmosphere free from interruption.

“A student that attends the symposium can count on the time that they spend in the symposium being very focused because there are just way too many distractions around here for some students,” he said.

In addition to offering students a structured time period to complete their assignments, the study sessions allow students to use each other as resources, Hauer said.

Students may choose to work in groups while studying, and tutoring services are made available, he said.

The advisor said the presence of a student facilitator, whose duties include taking attendance and ensuring that people remain on task, also helps to foster a climate where students feel comfortable enough to seek assistance.

“It’s much easier for a student to ask another student for help than it is for a student to ask a representative of the University,” Hauer said.

A faculty or staff member must refer a student to the program. The referring official can be “anybody that has a vested academic interest in this student,” he said.

The faculty or staff member is then responsible for making sure the student attends every session.

“The majority of the students that attend the symposium rely on that reinforcement to keep them honest and to kind of hold their feet to the fire and to keep them focused,” Hauer said.

Attendance and participation reports are sent by student facilitators to referring officials at the conclusion of every symposium.

The reports inform them if the student was present and using their study time effectively, he said.
CAFES Associate Dean Bob Baker said he believes the study sessions help students in his college become more successful in their studies.

“The structure, we think, is going to be very beneficial to our students,” he said. “It also provides a time within their schedules that they’re really in a sense forced to devote time to studies as opposed to doing something else which might not be as productive academically.”

Athletic Director Rick Bowen said he believes the symposium program is “a good fit” for student athletes.

“One of the things about an athlete and academics is you have to balance them both,” Bowen said. “To balance them both ... you have to learn study habits, and that was a void that Justin really filled.”

Hauer said he hoped to involve everybody on the UWRF campus in the program.

“A lot of students can succeed but don’t succeed because of a lack of life skills more so than academic skills,” he said. “The grand vision for this is to become part of the campus culture where people know that these are happening on Thursday and Sunday nights.”

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