Peer tutor program wins national award

Carnegie Mellon’s Academic Development department received the 2014 National Tutoring Association Tutoring Excellence Award for the best university tutoring program, last week. The National Tutoring Association is an organization for professional tutors that presents five awards each year.

The criteria for the National Tutoring Association Tutoring Excellence Award are, as listed on the National Tutoring Association’s website: “quality of service to students is recognized by peers, school administrators or community leaders,” and “effectiveness has been demonstrated through achievement of objective criteria.”

After being notified of the award, director of Academic Development Linda Hooper and Peer Tutor Program Coordinator John Lanyon announced the news to their tutors at the first peer tutor meeting of the semester.

A cake was brought into a classroom in Academic Development’s office in Cyert Hall, and the email describing the award was projected onto the room’s whiteboard.

In the past semester, Academic Development had 3,217 contacts for its walk-in tutoring service, which broke last year’s record of 3,089 contacts. Contacts describe anyone who attends and receives walk-in tutoring help.

Hooper described the progress Academic Development has made in the past decade during the announcement. “I came to CMU in 1997 in the summer,” Hooper said. “We only had twelve tutors and one graduate student supervising.”

“We started the standing appointment program in 1999 or 2000, and only had walk-ins before then,” she continued.

Hooper projected a graph onto the whiteboard showing that, since 1999, the number of walk-in tutoring sessions grew from 320 to over 3,000.
“This growth speaks to the quality of our program,” she said.

Speaking of the Tutoring Excellence Award, Lanyon said, “I can honestly tell you it’s quite a prestigious award. I’m almost speechless.”

Academic Developement counseling on organization, time management, and study skills; peer tutoring, including walk-in sessions and standing appointments; supplemental instruction sessions; and EXCEL study groups are the four services offered by Academic Development.

Junior computer science major Annika Peterson, who tutors subjects including physics, computer science, and math for Academic Development said, “I fell in love with the place.”

She first got involved with Academic Development the spring of her freshman year and said that the most fulfilling part of the tutoring process was that “point in student’s learning where I’m no longer needed.”

“In a weird way, my job is to make myself obsolete,” she said. “I love seeing my students reach their full potential.”

When asked what separates Carnegie Mellon’s Academic Development program from that of other universities, Hooper said, “We go to conferences often and see other programs, and ours seems more comprehensive. There aren’t loose ends.” She emphasized Academic Development’s attention to detail.

“Our tutors are very accountable and do a good job,” she added.

Lanyon compared the structure of Academic Development tutoring to a baseball team,saying “I create the lineup, but the players really determine the outcome.”

Lanyon also stressed the importance of the feedback that Academic Development receives about its programs. The Academic Development meeting where the award was announced began with Lanyon passing back sheets of comments and rankings to each tutor from their previous sessions. “We’re very responsive to the campus community,” he said.

Both Hooper and Lanyon stressed the role that keeping data on tutoring is a useful source of feedback on the effectiveness of Academic Development programs.

In addition to setting a new record for fall semester attendance, 390 standing tutoring appointments were made last semester and the average evaluation of tutoring on a 1 to 5 scale for multiple survey items was 4.85.