About six years before I joined the Academic Support Center (ASC), I began my employment here as an assistant to the Registrar. One of my tasks at the end of each semester was to compile a report of all students whose GPAs were below 2.0, which is a standard benchmark of academic performance. The purpose of this report was to make sure we were placing proper restrictions on students who may have been taking on too many credit hours the previous semester(s). We would restrict their credit hours to 12, 9 or 6 (depending on their year and GPA), hoping that a reduced work load would help them perform better in their classes. Unfortunately what we witnessed year after year was that this reduction in work load did virtually nothing to improve their grades. As our faculty and Academic staff pondered this frustrating trend, what we eventually came to realize was that a reduced work load did not get to the heart of the problem. College students usually don’t struggle because of cognitive ability. Rather, they lack certain skills and habits that are necessary for satisfactory performance at a college level. A reduction of work load alone does nothing to improve work ethic, organizational skills, study skills, or motivation. What students need is a comprehensive program that will teach them these skills up front and, in conjunction with academic assistance, will keep them out of academic trouble.
Recognition of this need morphed into a vision, and eventually we conceived a Center where all students could come to receive exactly the kind of proactive help they needed to be successful. Many colleges around the country have recently implemented similar programs, and the best examples of those greatly informed the vision for our own Academic Support Center.
WE ARE HERE FOR ALL STUDENTS!
Despite the nature of the ASC’s origins—as a way to assist struggling students—it has always bothered me that we seem to be known as the place where only “struggling students” go to get help. This is a myth I would like to dispel right away! The Academic Support Center, with all of its services, is available to ALL students, not only those who struggle! We truly believe that everyone can benefit from the ASC, and we highly encourage all students to utilize our services. Those who seem to average a C+ on their papers can, with our help, jump up to a B. Students who can’t quite seem to move above an A- might just need an extra edge in achieving perfection, and that’s what we love to help them achieve. Nothing excites us more than seeing students reach heights they never knew they could reach!
WHAT WE OFFER IN THE ASC
During orientation every year, I get to speak to new students and present them with a set of principles developed by Dr. Harvey called “Twelve Tips for Student Success.” One of those tips (my personal favorite) is, “Get organized!” The importance of organization in a student’s success cannot be overstated. The motto I share with them is, “An organized life is a successful life.” This pertains not only to physical space (room, desk, books), but also to one’s schedule. There are two main ways we help students organize their schedules.
First, we help students plan out their average week. On this “weekly profile” we take every single commitment a student has throughout the course of each week, and we lay them all out. This might include classes, work, sports, ministry, meals, etc. Then we strategically plan their study time, making sure that each class is covered each week with adequate time to complete all assignments and reading before the due date. Putting every commitment into its proper place is an important step in getting organized.
Second, we help them plan out all of their assignments in one calendar. Course syllabi all contain assignment calendars, but one calendar with all of the assignments is even better! We help students sort through their syllabi to create one Master Calendar so that all of their assignments are listed in one place. We will even help students plan the start dates of major assignments so that they are always finished with papers and projects well before they are due, eliminating unnecessary stress and allowing proper time for editing.
The Academic Support Center currently has three staff members—myself and two student tutors. Though few in number, we make up a fierce team dedicated to helping all students who desire success. Tutoring can take many forms. Students who don’t know how to begin a paper, write a bibliography, build a PowerPoint presentation, navigate an online class, or find a notable source (to name a few), can all benefit from the expertise our tutors have to offer.
I like to think of every assignment as a newly hewn gem—each has the potential to be a dazzling beauty, but first it needs to be polished up and its rough edges smoothed out. Students can bring or email any assignment to us—paper (big or small), sermon, speech, Power Point—and we will read them thoroughly, giving them feedback on how to give it that extra “shine” before it goes to the professor for a grade. Assignment evaluations focus on improving a student’s grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, logic, and citation skills.
This service is especially important for students who struggle with the latter. Improper citations are to blame for many failed papers because plagiarism (intentional or not) is something we take seriously. In the ASC we want to help students avoid submitting a paper whose sources are improperly documented.
Studying with a group is known to be very effective. In the ASC, we have space to host groups who want to prepare for class events such as exams, major projects, or presentations. Our tutors facilitate these study groups as necessary. We are also in the process of creating online quiz sets on quizlet.com for some of the more foundational courses so that study group sessions are ready to go when they walk in the door.
LEARNING NEEDS ACCOMMODATION
Every year, students arrive who have documented learning needs and thus require various types of accommodations in order to complete the required curriculum. While our institution is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, these accommodations we provide are much more effective when accompanied with one-on-one assistance by a mentor in the Academic Support Center.
A CHRIST-CENTERED MISSION
While many colleges and universities around the country have similar centers where students can come for support, the rationale behind our Academic Support Center is ultimately Christ-centered. The mission of Johnson University is different than those other colleges, and everything we do is informed by that mission, including all aspects of academics. The Academic Support Center is one piece of that overall mission in training students to go out and expand the kingdom of God. Our goal is to prepare our students to the best of our ability so that they, in turn, can go and serve God to the best of their ability.