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Math professors volunteer their evenings to help GCU students succeed

By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau

It started out small.

Last fall, math instructors in Grand Canyon University’s College of Arts and Sciences volunteered their office hours between classes to host tutoring sessions with students.

As the campus grew this year, so did demand for math tutoring, and more students funneled through instructors’ doorways with questions about calculus, algebra and geometry. The eight-person staff of math professors kept office doors open for students between classes, but time and space quickly became limited.

Offices soon became overcrowded, so professors turned to vacant study rooms to host impromptu evening tutoring sessions during the first weeks of the fall semester, on top of offering walk-in tutoring sessions during normal office hours. The nightly study groups grew rapidly, accommodating a couple dozen students or more each night. Professors began holding the tutoring sessions – which are similar to classroom lectures – in classrooms last month, spending a couple of hours a night explaining the most misunderstood concepts from introductory math classes to advanced courses, such as trigonometry.

CAS math professors began promoting the night sessions to students during classes, dubbing the free tutoring “Pi It Forward.” Sessions are held Monday through Wednesday from 4:30 to 9 p.m. in CAS and Fleming classrooms, and they’re based on demand and instructor availability.

The eight professors rotate nightly teaching responsibilities with the help of instructor’s assistants, with the time and location organized by professors during the day. Sessions can have a large-group focus, or students can receive one-on-one instruction in a subject.

Sherman Elliott, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, oversaw the program from its inception. He said he was impressed by the instructors’ devotion to student learning.

“The professors felt like there was a greater need for help and took it upon themselves to supply a greater learning opportunity to students,” Elliott said. “It’s totally voluntary, and I think it’s tremendous. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The faculty members involved are Chris Petersdinh, Shannon Schumann, Samantha Russell, Raquel Lopez, David Tello, Ben VanDerLinden, Filippo Posta and Mickey Nakagome.

Elliott said Pi It Forward sessions have grown since last month. The number of students often reaches 70, with 40 being the average. Elliott initially was approached by CAS staffers to launch the program and is working to establish Pi It Forward as a University tradition.

Princess Amukamara joined GCU as an instructor’s assistant for freshman-level math courses in September and immediately joined the Pi It Forward team as a volunteer tutor. Amukamara, 27, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Arizona State University in 2012 and said math came naturally to her from an early age.

She currently tutors students in all math subjects and said the most important takeaway for students is the boost in confidence they receive from personal, focused instruction.

“I am confident in my abilities in math, and I think giving that confidence to students will help them be confident when it comes to tests and just coming to the teachers and (instructor’s assistants) and asking for help when they need it,” Amukamara said.

Freshman biology major Michelle Lavin takes math courses as part of her undergraduate curriculum. She admitted to having difficulty grasping math concepts and often struggled in classes.

Lavin, 18, joined Pi It Forward sessions during the first week of the fall semester and credits the help of GCU’s professors-turned-tutors for her success in the classroom.

“Now, when I’m taking the exams (after tutoring), I’ve never received lower than a 95 percent, because I understand it,” Lavin said. “It’s definitely helped. I feel like I have a better, more in-depth understanding because of it.”

Students interested in joining Pi It Forward should contact their math professor or Elliott at Sherman.Elliott@gcu.edu for times and locations of tutoring sessions.

Contact Cooper Nelson at 639.7511 or cooper.nelson@gcu.edu.

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