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Students work on calculus in the Supportive Services Program Tutoring Center at the library on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus on Thursday afternoon. The university’s tutoring program was recognized as the most outstanding program of the year at the national conference of the Association for the Tutoring Profession in March. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Top tutors: UMD’s program takes top national honors

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Every year, University of Minnesota Duluth students take part in 15,000 tutoring sessions either in one-on-one sessions or small groups.

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For senior economics major and writing tutor Laura Temme, that figure says a lot.

“It means people are taking advantage of resources, and not letting their education happen to them,” she said. “They’re taking control.”

The prominence of tutoring on campus reveals a shift from the days when only at-risk students met with tutors, and when competition, and not collaboration, was king in academia.

It also helped affix a large tassel to the mortar of the university’s Supportive Services Program, which was honored in March as 2014’s Most Outstanding Tutoring Program in the nation by the Association for the Tutoring Profession. The runners-up: heavyweights Ohio State and Clemson. For their efforts, the UMD program held an open house in the library rotunda Thursday.

Program director Paul Treuer was there. He started the Supportive Services Program in 1987, when he was charged with addressing iffy patterns in student retention and success. He remembered a time when 2,000 students per year were being tutored.

“We’re finding all students with all GPAs are taking part,” said Treuer, who proceeded to give examples of why tutoring is an option for every student nowadays. “If you’re pre-med with a B-average, you’re at risk of not getting into medical school.

“A student in calculus might not understand one thing and they want to know.”

The tutoring program could be described in terms of sword mechanics: as steel sharpens steel, so does one student sharpen another.

Tutors are nominated by their departments, and generally are culled from the top 10 percent of students. They undergo a rigorous training program in which they learn how to communicate with others and recognize different learning styles of those they tutor.

The tutored students improve academically, and the tutors broaden their skill base by being able to explain complex material to students from a wide range of learning styles.

“It’s a win-win scenario,” Treuer said.

Regarding the award, Treuer couldn’t be more proud.

“This is just a tremendous honor,” he said. “I knew already that we had a good program. It’s just nice for our tutors to get the recognition.”

Tutors are exclusively undergraduates and receive one credit per semester for their efforts. The average tutor spends four hours per week tutoring. This year, the university has more than 200 qualified tutors, providing help across 112 courses.

“It’s really an honor to be a tutor,” said Temme, who believes the campus is more unified and social as a result of the interactions created by the prolific amount of tutoring happening on campus. “It makes the learning experience better for them and for you.” 

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