MEDIA, Pa. — Every week, hundreds of Penn State Brandywine students spend time in the Academic Commons, a free tutoring program located in Vairo Library.
In Brandywine’s early years, the tutoring program fit in one classroom and helped students with a few basic disciplines. Today, the Academic Commons occupies a large space in the library and boasts three centers: the STEM Lab, Writing Studio and Brandywine Learning.
The STEM Lab, headed by STEM Lab Coordinator Janeen Madison, provides support for students in science, technology, engineering and math courses.
The Writing Studio, led by Assistant Professor of English and Writing Studio Director James Berkey, provides support for students with writing assignments from any discipline.
Brandywine Learning, coordinated by Christine Brown, provides support for multilingual students and students in general education courses.
Although the centers focus on different subjects, they all share a common goal. “We want students to become more independent learners — to recognize the challenges they have and learn strategies to resolve them on their own,” said Berkey.
The Academic Commons tutors strive to maintain this emphasis in both group and one-on-one tutoring sessions. While helping students with their coursework, the tutors also teach them how to develop healthy study and research habits.
“Many students, especially freshmen and sophomores, are so overwhelmed with the independence of college that they don’t know how to balance their commitments,” said Brown. “Tutoring gives them a person to check in with and keep them on track until they can manage on their own.”
The Academic Commons has grown exponentially in the past several years, and today, it meets with more students on a weekly basis than ever before.
"When I first started tutoring 10 years ago, we had less than 100 students who came regularly,” said Madison. “We now have well over 300 students — and that’s just in the STEM Lab.”
The Academic Commons program coordinators all stress that tutoring is a service for all students, not just those in need of academic support.
“All writers need readers, even professionals,” Berkey said. “You don’t just come for tutoring because you have a problem. You come because your writing will improve when you talk with somebody.”
The STEM Lab, Writing Studio and Brandywine Learning also encourage students to explore the resources available to them in all three centers. Madison finds math students especially open to tutoring across the curriculum.
“Students are more apt to admit that they don’t know about math,” said Madison, “so they come to the STEM Lab for math help. Then they realize that we offer Spanish, business and writing tutoring, too. We’re so close to the other centers that it’s easy for students to see all their resources and get plugged in.”
As more students choose to use the free tutoring resources on campus, Berkey, Brown and Madison plan to maintain an emphasis on the learning process in the Academic Commons. They hope to see students not only earning better grades, but becoming more independent, motivated thinkers.
“A lot of students want to take a passive role in the learning process,” said Berkey. “We encourage them to take an active role.”