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Improving grades one letter at a time

Shortly after entering Furman in 2012, J.R. Walker found himself in a losing race.

He had come 2,300 miles from his home in Los Angeles, Calif., to be part of the Furman student body and the track-and-field team. But Walker soon began pulling C’s in art and political science classes, “and I wasn’t happy about it.”

So he took his problem to his advisor Barbara Foltz, who was also Furman’s Director of Academic Assistance.

Foltz directed Walker to Room 002 in the Duke Library, to a place recently transformed into the Center for Academic Success.

She explained that the center employed Furman peer tutors to offer extra one-on-one support to any student needing help in any of the several hundred subjects offered at Furman.

Tutors are recruited through student employment, and student and faculty recommendation. Each chosen tutor also has to have previously earned at least a ‘B’ (preferably an ‘A’) in the intended courses they teach.  The tutors also help students develop better study habits and improve time management .

And when Foltz told Walker that this assistance could him to raise his two low marks by at least one full letter grade, he decided to give it a try…

“And it worked – I brought the C’s up to an A- and a B+,” said Walker, who has already signed up this semester for writing assistance. “And if you’re struggling or having any doubts in certain subjects, this Center will definitely make you better in that subject.”

Walker isn’t the only one to benefit.

Each year, the Center for Academic Success works with approximately 700 of Furman’s 2,600 students – from freshmen to seniors.

“In the 2012-13 academic year, we supplied 13,000 hours of tutoring for all levels of students – including 200 student-athletes,” said Foltz, now in her ninth year at Furman. “And because our curriculum can be challenging and our students have to handle busy schedules, more academic support is often needed.”

Though technically a new idea, the Center is really a combination of old and new.

The Academic Assistance Office, which offers academic counseling and tutoring, and the Writing and Media Lab, which offers student assistance with writing and media projects, used to exist in separate locations.

But Deans Marianne Pierce and Paula Gabbert wanted to bring these services and the Center for Teaching and Learning, which assists faculty, into one convenient location – and the new “one-stop” Center for Academic Success was born.

“It’s really helped me when I needed it,” Walker said.

And Foltz added that she expects the Center to help more students in the coming years.

“We hope to see increased usage of our services,” she said, “and ultimately a high academic success rate for our students (in terms of) higher GPAs, higher retention, lower probation rates, and higher graduation rates.”

To learn more about the Center for Academic Success, call 294-2110.

Book image by Shutterstock

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