Tutoring Services helps Penn College students prepare, thrive

Published 10.05.2022

Student News
Faculty & Staff

Down the hall and 'round the corner, tucked away on the first floor of the Klump Academic Center, Tutoring Services has for too long been envisioned by some as a near-hidden area where overwhelmed students could find a helping hand.

Tutor Appreciation Week (Oct. 3-7) is the ideal time to celebrate the ever-increasing visibility and importance of those services, which are emerging from that isolated cocoon and becoming more prominent as an interconnected boon to all students enrolled at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

With a fresh message – "Prepare Now, Thrive Later" – and more than three dozen student tutors, five professional tutors and a full-time mathematics instructional specialist on board, Tutoring Services invites the campus community to explore a resource they may only think they know.

Tutoring Services' student stars shine in the ACC's first-floor wing, attracting expressions of gratitude from classmates. (Photo by Angela Frontz, coordinator of tutoring)"There's the Tutoring Center and the Writing Center, and a lot of labs across campus that host our tutors," explained Angela Frontz, coordinator of tutoring. "We have tutors in 33 different subjects, plus every math offered on campus, and we're always growing. We just added a tutor in electric power generation."

Tutors aren't just helpful to the students in their chosen areas of expertise, either, she noted: "We're holistically strong. We recently had an unplanned need for some substitute writing tutors, so I reached out; I got replies within moments – literally – as our math tutors stepped up and stepped in."

Balloons and banners, as well as a "Wall of Thanks" comprised of appreciative notes to tutors, are helping to mark this week's observance. In addition, PCToday is shining its light on a handful of tutors who – along with their peers – are a linchpin in the college's mission of inspiring and preparing Tomorrow Makers.

During a wide-ranging exchange in which they proved every bit as candid as they are selfless and as fully passionate as they are knowledgeable, five tutors offered their considerable perspective (with maximum insight and minimal editing) on getting involved, sharing their skills, helping themselves while they connect with others, and making a difference.

Benjamin T. Davis, Wellsboro
Building automation engineering technology (and a '22 alumnus in mechatronics)

My first year at Penn College involved quite a few electrical courses, and, at the end of my first year, an electrical professor asked me if I would be interested in tutoring. The current tutor was graduating, and they needed someone to fill his shoes. Being a tutor was not something that I ever thought of doing, but it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try. I am in my third semester tutoring AC and DC electrical theory, and I have found that I actually quite enjoy tutoring.

From my personal experience, Tutoring Services is a necessary pillar of the college. Not only is it for the benefit of the students who use the services, but it is also a benefit for the tutors (seeing as how a majority of tutors are students themselves). Students learn and retain class content better, and the tutors learn valuable skills. Tutoring Services also offers training to tutors – training that improves our ability to interact with students.

Zoe C. Betz, of Sunbury, enrolled in pre-physician assistant studies, works with Abigail J. Larson, of Saegertown, an engineering design technology student who tutors in multiple academic subjects.One of the things that I like about tutoring is boiling down complex topics to something more palatable and understandable to others, and it is satisfying when I see the light bulbs go off in student's heads.

For example, someone asked me if I knew AutoCAD. I said that I knew basic 2D AutoCAD, but I should know enough to get them started. We were then on a computer trying to draw a schematic into 2D AutoCAD. I guided him on where I would start the drawing and how to proceed piece by piece. He asked me, "How do you know where to start and what comes next for making the drawing?" I replied, "Think of it as if you are making clay pottery. You start with the general shape first, then you put in the details.” He said, "Wow, that is the best anyone has ever explained it!”

Even though I am listed as the DC/AC tutor, I quite often have students ask if I know subjects outside of my officially covered scope. If I had taken a class on the subject they are working on, I would definitely help them. If I didn't know enough to help them, I honestly told them and recommended a tutor that specializes in that subject.

I think out of everything for tutoring, the most important thing is that students feel "at home" so to speak. I could be the most knowledgeable tutor in the world, but it wouldn't mean anything if students didn't feel comfortable or felt alienated. I pride myself on the fact that anyone could walk into the room I tutor in and many of them come back afterward, even if they don't need that much help, because they like working in a place that is welcoming to them.

The room I tutor in is a 30-person computer and electronic lab. Electrical classes are taken by more majors than I initially realized. Last year, right after the first exams for the semester, almost every single seat was filled for a week straight. That is when I started doing tutoring as if it was its own class; tutoring from the whiteboard, engaging any questions, and, of course, having lots of laughs.

The faculty get involved, as well. They know how beneficial it is for students to take advantage of tutoring, and actively promote our services to the students. The electrical professors give me good feedback in terms of “We noticed that students that were struggling before they went to you are doing a lot better now, and it shows on the tests.”

Michelle W. Bower, math instructional specialist, helps students turn problems into solutions.I would say that my tenure as a tutor has been a success so far. Many students have shown their gratitude, and the professors recognize the effectiveness of tutors. I know many people around campus now because tutoring gave me skills to talk to people I have never met and say, "Hi, how's it going?" and just holding a conversation with them. Overall, I always look forward to tutoring throughout the week.

Some students misunderstand what Tutoring Services does. Normally, it is freshmen straight out of high school that, when they think "tutoring,” they shy away from it because they think "not able to do normal classwork.” However, college is the big leagues. It has a completely different meaning and usage here at Penn College.

Tutoring Services is a resource that is meant to be used to its fullest. For example, I am currently a 4.0 student, but, even I have used Tutoring Services for math. Anyone can use the services (and they should); it just depends on whether people decide to use it. The people who do see a positive and noticeable difference, whether they are doing well or poorly in class.

Sasha N. Dressler, Mifflintown
Human services & restorative justice (and a ’21 graduate in the HSJ associate-degree major)

I became a tutor through the college about two years ago after being recommended by my psychology professor. I was ecstatic when I officially got to meet Angela. I am a human service & restorative justice major, so my life is dedicated to helping people feel better about whatever they are struggling with each time I meet with them. This job has given me the opportunity to start that practice early.

I was recommended to be a psychology tutor due to my performance throughout my time at Penn College, but it is so much more than that for me. I have always been fascinated with psychology because it provides an insight into why people do the things they do. In the interview, Angie had mentioned becoming a writing tutor on top of psychology to diversify my portfolio. I jumped on that opportunity right away. I have always loved writing in any format, and I naturally had a gift for it. Helping others produce work that they are proud of, to me, provides them the confidence to continue writing, and – who knows? – maybe one day they will write for fun rather than for a grade.

Professional science tutor Marcia G. Brauning conducts a helpfully guided tour through the periodic table for Sarah E. Allen, a physician assistant studies student from Northville.There are so many rewarding moments that come from helping others. One of my favorite things to see is when students have their “light bulb moment” after working so hard to grasp an assignment. Seeing everything click for them and the relief that settles before hearing “I understand it now” is something that I can never get tired of.

There was one time when I was working with a student for hours on a paper, and they were struggling and becoming flustered. They were about to give up on the assignment and walk away when I decided to try just one more method. As soon as I began explaining it in a different, more modern method, I saw her eyes light up like a Christmas tree and a smile form on her face. She immediately began typing with such enthusiasm and my heart fluttered. I knew that she finally was confident in the work she was producing. She left that day feeling content with what she had written, and I was happy to have aided her in that process. About a week later, she returned to tell me she did well on the assignment. A high-five was exchanged, and she left, once again smiling and proud of herself. She is now a regular in the Writing Center, her writing is at a completely different stage than when we met, and she is confident and puts her heart into everything she does. Success stories like hers make me proud of the work I do each and every day.

I believe the key to tutoring, and to life, is simply meeting people where they are with anything they are experiencing. This can be challenging, but, in the end, when they finally understand the concept, the work you put in is so incredibly worth it, and I am honored to dedicate my time to helping people.

Abby E. George, Harrisburg
Applied management (and ’21, baking & pastry arts)

I work as a writing tutor and as the food and hospitality tutor. However, my experience with Tutoring Services did not begin there. I have never been a strong student in math, and I was in the Tutoring Center every week for help with homework and test prep. I often just needed someone to reexplain, or explain in a new way, what my professor was teaching. Office hours are valuable, and I encourage students to utilize their professors’ office hours, but I found it helpful when someone explained it in a different way so that I could understand it. All the tutors I met with were personable and exceedingly patient. I asked 1,000 questions and got 1,000 answers, and that dedication to my success is what truly helped me to succeed.

Over the summer, I approached Angela to apply for the food and hospitality tutoring position. I have been lab assisting for a few classes, but I missed the theory side of the program. In applying for the position, I was hoping to help the food and hospitality students understand the industry they are going to be entering. During the phone interview, she offered me a position in the Writing Center, as well. I did not know a position of that nature was available, and it excited me. Call it strange, but I have always loved writing essays and critiquing them. I often had friends send me their papers so that I could review them, so I was excited to begin helping students in this capacity.

Resources go beyond one-on-one tutoring: A 3D model of the human eye provides a visual aid for Laney E. Heller, of Cogan Station, a 2021 baking & pastry arts grad now pursuing a bachelor’s in applied management.I have only been working in Tutoring Services for a few weeks, but the time here has been incredibly enjoyable. Everyone here is incredibly welcoming and eager to answer questions. We work as a team to ensure that students have what they need to succeed. My favorite experience as a tutor is the “aha” moment when a student understands the concept they have been working on for so long. This has been such a rewarding experience so far, and I am excited for the coming year.

Nikilesh Kannan, Warrington
Information assurance and cyber security

I tutor math, up to Calculus 2. Aside from that, I try to help with other science-based studies such as physics. I try to help others as much as I can with the knowledge I have.

Tutoring, to me, is a way to help students understand and grasp concepts that they’re having trouble with. The way I like to help them would be by trying to relate concepts to real-life scenarios. Oftentimes, when the professor’s explanation of a concept does not work for a student, I try to break it down into something they may be able to grasp. When I use this method, it makes me use a lot of weird far-fetched analogies. But in the end, if the student understands the concept, I feel accomplished.

Tutoring is about being able to help a student grasp a concept that they are struggling with, but through a more gentle approach, and as a friend or peer rather than as a lecturer.

It’s not just me who is helping a student feel comfortable in the center to learn. It’s also the other tutors. Being friends with the other tutors creates a small community in the Tutoring Center. Also being able to rely on other tutors, and other perspectives, helps to serve that community more. We are able to complement one another’s weaknesses with our strengths.

Getting to know someone on a personal level and having a connection with my students helps them learn faster. Showing excitement about a particular subject can help a student learn. Adding excitement to what I tutor can add excitement to learning and can encourage students to be more motivated.

Tutor Cristian A. Castro, of Mifflintown, lends an understanding ear to Ariann E. Decker, of Scranton. Both are majoring in software development & information management.When I started last semester, it was a slow start, but I got one or two people. After the first time of helping them, the next time they came in, they sat down right at my table. I started to greet them more personally, saying “Hi” to them, and talking to them more. Even if they know they absolutely had no idea what went on in class, they know that they are able to leave with more confidence in their ability to do their homework.

To this day, one of those students is still coming to me. Math is not their strong suit, but they are still coming in … and seeing that makes the job well worth it.

Sometimes while tutoring, we will go off on a tangent, veer off-track. Small conversations away from math, helping to solidify connections, whether it be hobbies and interests. Getting that connection helps to solidify that we are peers. That can make them more comfortable and less intimidated to ask questions.

I became a tutor because growing up I wasn't very good with math, and my parents enrolled me in a tutoring center called Kumon in first grade. I was there until 10th grade. And in that time, the employees that tutored the students were all high-schoolers. But I remember one tutor who would always bring a little bit more to the center. He was one of the smartest people I knew. But he made it fun to be there; he was open and related to us. When I got to high school, I transitioned from student to employee. And I would try to be like him, in that I knew how a student would feel being at this center. I tried to make each day that they were there as exciting as possible. Helping them made me want to continue and work as a tutor here.

My mom told me about trying to apply for a tutoring job on campus and encouraged me to apply. I love helping people. Tutoring became one of my strong suits after working at Kumon, and it was something that I could see myself doing in the future.

Kumon helped to speed up learning new concepts and was something that I liked. When I got to high school, I took Pre-Calculus and Calculus 1 and 2. The way that my teachers taught it to me helped to bring out the appreciation of it. When you’re able to understand applications, it becomes easier to explain it to others. It helped learning how to explain stuff in multiple ways. Figuring out how each person likes it is the trick.

I’m proud that I have had a positive impact on others work.

I like having a connection with the students because, at the same time, it’s not just “you’re their tutor.” You also become their friend. It’s not about what they’re doing in math, but also what are they up to in general. It makes you feel more connected to the Penn College community instead of just being tutor and student.

Tutoring Services provides a great asset to people who are struggling with general classes. A lot of the tutors are in math, but there are many who tutor other subjects. When you come to the Tutoring Center, it’s like entering a family. Coming into the Tutoring Center is like joining a club. There is very little power dynamic. We are just peers helping give back to the community.

We have a huge responsibility as tutors. Besides helping out with homework, we have to look out for signs that the students are stressed, overworked or not in a good place at the time. Trying to understand what a student is going through and helping them face their problems is what it means to be a tutor here.

We are all a part of a team. We all help each other. Being positive, making the space a positive learning area, making it a space where you can joke around with your colleagues. Making it loose and relaxed as possible. Joking around with other tutors shows students that we’re a fun group of people that like to tutor. Making the space a comfortable space encourages them to come back. They go to the Tutoring Center because they want help, and because they want to see their favorite tutors.

Being a good tutor isn't only how well you tutor or being able to do math, but the bond you share between the students and the other tutors.

Robert L. Parker II, Jersey Shore

Whether through individual attention, small group interaction or an off-site get-together in a campus computer lab, Tutoring Services are free and available to all Penn College students.Business, math and accounting have been passions of mine since high school. I began my work as a math tutor and, shortly after I began, I realized that some of my other skills could be of benefit to the business students at Penn College.

Helping a student on their journey of not only completing a course, but fully enriching themselves in the material is a rewarding experience like no other, and I have seen many students excel in their studies as a result of consistent visits to the Tutoring Center.

Recently, I have been working with a number of accounting students. Accounting is a subject that can seem foreign to those whom may be studying it for the first time. Seeing the look of joy and appreciation on the faces of my accounting students after working through a difficult assignment reminds me why I chose to become a tutor: to help others succeed.

Lily D. Ward, Williamsport
Civil engineering technology

When I decided to start tutoring, I changed from being a culinary major and cook to a civil engineering major and a tutor. I've always liked helping and doing things for people (like cooking), but I needed a change. In my math class at the time, I was understanding things faster than some classmates and would turn around and help them. Helping my classmates was something I enjoyed and, since I liked math, I decided tutoring would be a good idea. It was exactly the change I needed.

It's always great seeing when things finally click for a student or when they do well on their test, and they come back to thank me. I feel math is most people's least-favorite subject and there is a negativity surrounding it that makes people think they are bad at it. Your state of mind affects your math skills, and I like helping people to see that they are way better at it than they think they are.

My friend came into tutoring a couple of weeks ago, convinced he was going to fail his test. As we went over the things he was struggling with, he was hesitant to give answers, but most of the answers were correct. He also caught onto things fast. Part of math is your mindset and confidence in it. I like helping people strengthen their confidence and to help change the stigma around math.

Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor (unless otherwise noted)