Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But new dogs and old tricks? That’s something altogether different.
Academic and Career Excellence Center science learning advocate, or LEAD, Dylan Huttenlocher thought he’d turn to an oldie-but-goodie when it comes to helping his fellow Grand Canyon University General Biology I students.
When Huttenlocher was a freshman, he remembered joining in on a Kahoot! session before one of his biology tests. Back then it was helmed by former science LEAD Quincy Strasser.
Those sessions were a game-changer.
“He said they helped him so much, and so he was like, ‘I want to be able to help other students who might be having a challenging time or who are trying to just prepare for their upcoming exams,’” said Makayla Griffin, ACE Program Manager. “I thought it was really cool. It almost feels like he wanted to give back.”
Huttenlocher thought he would put together his own Kahoot! session, so he connected with ACE Academic Director Marette Hahn.
“He saw an opportunity to kick-start these sessions again,” Hahn said, “asking if he could take on the responsibility of reviewing, revising and relaunching this initiative for the spring semester.”
In particular, Huttenlocher wanted to put a session together for Bio I, an introduction-to-the-world-of-science class that has proved to be a challenging course because of the sheer amount of content.
“That’s the one I actually get the most students for,” said the junior biochemistry/molecular biology major who tutors students at the ACE Center on the first floor of freshman residence building Willow Hall – home of the First-Year Experience, which focuses on career and academic assistance for first-year students. “That’s the class that every single science major I know takes, whether pre-med, pre-physician assistant, physical therapy. Even engineering students have to take that class. I get a lot of foot traffic with Bio I.”
He spent part of his winter break preparing his own session of Kahoot!, a game-based learning platform in which teachers create questions students answer via their digital devices, much like a trivia game.
“A lot of people were coming in for the same thing – the same topics. I thought, if they’re asking questions, I’m sure their peers are, as well, so it kind of made me want to do it,” he said.
The idea is to prepare and present a Kahoot! before each of the four Bio I exams. The next sessions are Feb. 28, April 4 and April 14.
College of Science, Engineering and Technology Associate Dean of Science Dr. Jon Valla pushed the word out about the sessions to his faculty. And Huttenlocher, who is well connected with the college’s biology professors, asked them to mention the reviews to their students.
For the first Kahoot!, Huttenlocher requested a classroom that could accommodate about 50 students.
“So many students showed up to that first session that they did not have enough seats,” said Griffin. “Some of them were sitting on the floor and standing in the back. He sent me a picture, and I was blown away.”
About 90 students attended.
Hahn said she was ecstatic to see so many students taking advantage of a resource like this, “especially one that is students supporting students.”
“We ended up having to request lecture halls for all future sessions,” Griffin said.
It’s been about two years since the ACE Centers offered Kahoot! reviews, about the time COVID-19 turned the world upside down and the department had to pivot, going from face-to-face to online academic help.
Not that GCU’s students slowed down in their use of the ACE Centers, which offer academic and career help free of charge. They hit about the same number of virtual appointments in 2020-21 as they did in person the year before.
Still, when this academic year got going, so did the ACE Centers. After 18 months of not being in-person, department leaders wanted to re-introduce the centers to students. ACE went full force on social media and had a strong presence during Welcome Week.
The department hasn’t slowed down since, and ACE LEADs such as Huttenlocher have shown why that academic help is so important.
“Based off of the success of Dylan’s first session, I think this is something we absolutely will continue to offer to students,” said Griffin.
“I put a lot of time in ACE,” said Huttenlocher, who always has loved helping his friends with their homework, even in high school.
As a GCU science LEAD, he meets with about 20 students per week who make appointments for academic help through Career Connections, the academic and career online tool students use to do everything from build resumes to finding internship opportunities. Not only does Huttenlocher offer academic help for Bio I, but General Chemistry I, General Chemistry II, cellular biology, molecular biology and microbiology.
Helping other students reinforces his knowledge of science, as does his work with a GCU Research and Design Program team looking at the effects of plant extracts on cancer cells. Those experiences are what helped him in 2021 become a TGen Helios Scholar and receive a prestigious paid, eight-week summer internship in biomedical research.
“School takes up quite a bit of time,” Huttenlocher said before sitting down with two students recently at the Willow ACE Center.
“This is a dumb question,” one of the students asks him, “but what is the unit for work?”
“Joule,” Huttenlocher says as they barrel through other concepts: “Oxygen is always negative 2. Hydrogen is always plus 1.”
That dedication to student success isn’t lost on Griffin.
“Dylan has been so eager to create this (Kahoot!) and make sure it’s up and running and goes smoothly. … He has really poured in, and it’s been really cool to witness,” she said.
Hahn added that she is constantly impressed by the service and heart of the department’s LEADs.
“Dylan exemplifies what it means to be an ACE LEAD and a GCU student. His initiative and desire to serve his peers is representative of our entire LEAD team,” Hahn said. “I know I may be biased, but I truly believe we have some of the most student-focused, service-oriented and compassionate student workers out there.”
Because of student requests through the ACE Instagram page, the next Kahoot may incorporate Zoom, as well, so students who can’t make it in person can join in remotely.
It’s just another way ACE continues to respond to student needs and help them do well in their courses.
Hahn said when students engage with ACE, “They know they’re going to be cared for.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
Students who want to attend Monday’s Kahoot:
- In person: 6-8 p.m. Monday, Room 234, Technology Building
- Via Zoom: Meeting ID: 848 831 7563; Password: ACE2020