The St. Ambrose Student Success Center (SSC) is tucked cozily into the first floor corner of Ambrose Hall that formerly served as the Registrar's Office.
As students filter in and out of the door, it's impossible not to notice the comfortable exchange of smiles and friendly greetings. Filled with tables, whiteboards and snacks, the new office space made its debut in January of 2016. It houses 45 tutors, all students themselves, who devote hours each week helping nearly a quarter of SAU's undergraduate students reach their highest potential.
The fall of 2016 saw a six percent increase in the number of students utilizing the SSC, according to Beth Cook, director of reading and study skills. She said students come for one-on-one and small group tutoring that typically includes a tutor and two or three students who share a class together. While the tutoring sessions are offered for most 100 and 200 level courses, writing tutorials are available for all SAU undergraduate courses.
"Tutoring helps students form sound study habits and practices that assist them in future classes," Cook said. "Additionally, the tutors gain valuable experiences sharing their expertise with students. They make sure the SSC is an inviting place where both the tutees and the tutors have a strong sense of ownership."
Assistant Director Dianne Gilchrist is not surprised by the growth in student participation at the center. She said students are receptive to tutoring because of the value they place on their education and the standards that come with programs.
"I do believe that students are more receptive to tutoring," Gilchrist said. "We have a more accessible, inviting space and changed our scheduling structure so that students can meet in small groups, rather than individually. They learn from their classmates and tutors in this setting.
"We are continually trying to spread the message that the Student Success Center is a valuable resource to help each student meet their academic goals," she added. "Some want help to successfully get through a required course and many come in to work toward a higher grade and level of understanding with a peer tutor that has been successful in a course."
The relationships tutors and tutees develop can be profound. Certainly, their time together is focused and intense. And busy. Very busy. Math tutor David Drysdale and tutee Murphy Garcia routinely filled two to three white boards with Calculus equations during their weekly sessions last fall.
"Sometimes I didn't fully understand a concept and he was able to explain it in terms I did understand," Garcia said. "Some days I would come in a little too confident with the material. This is when David helped me out the most. Going through the steps on the board helped me learn the material best. Some days we would have all three boards filled with calculus. It was like a mathematical work of art."
Abby Hammer is a student who received tutoring assistance last year, and is now a tutor herself, helping other students with French.
"I guess the transition wasn't too difficult," Hammer said. "Because I went to my tutor so often, and the way she taught me gave me a better understanding of the material, it was easier for me to teach others. Being a tutor has taught me new ways to look at the material."
In this way, the work the SSC does becomes cyclical, a constant flow of encouragement, understanding and students who have found the silent strength that lies within learning from one another, working hard and discovering that quiet corner to focus in.