By Rebekah Schroeder
Facing Zoom with a smile, Faris El Akbani’s “repeat customers” of the tutoring center at the College are used to his charm in real life. The senior communications major has been working in his position for three years, going from in-person consultations to the digital realm of perfecting essays via screen sharing.
“When you’re in person, there’s just a different social system that we’re both aware of,” he said. “We’re paying attention more.”
But that does not stop El Akbani from helping fellow students. The tutors at the College’s Tutoring Center have successfully shifted to the remote platform since March 2020. Although they faced difficulties, especially for those specializing in math and science areas, the services never paused.
Students can access any tutoring services for free with enrollment in a myriad of subjects. According to Assistant Director Karen Deaver, the options are flexible, with single or weekly appointments “through online signup platform WCOnline, allowing them to meet individually or in groups on Zoom or GoogleMeet.”
“The schedule is so flexible because you set your own hours. I’m never being told when I’m going to work. It’s totally based around my course schedule, my homework,” said Amanda Politano, a graduate assistant who has been tutoring since her undergraduate psychology program.
She says eTutoring is a useful tool for students looking to asynchronously check their assignments through submitting them to an online consortium, where tutors can provide feedback via email in a turnaround of about 12 hours.
There are also Writing and Talking Teams (WATTs) — where a group of tutors model peer review strategies for students by visiting their Writing 102 classrooms.
Ambar Grullón is a senior English major and a writing center tutor whose eyes are open to any kind of assignment requiring a mastery of words, not just ones centered in specific courses.
“If you have a paper, you’re welcome to come to me. I’ve had engineering students come to me with papers even though I can’t understand their concept, I can at least help them write it,” she said.
The pandemic helped get the Roscoe West Hall center from what Grullón calls a “1980s office” kind of approach, where going digital was finally possible to move into a modern, updated system.
Lauren Cotogno, a junior biology major who also lends her time to TCNJ EMS and Tri-Beta, the Biological Honor Society on campus, has the difficult task of assisting students in their science-oriented online courses. Without the usual physicality of a lab on campus, she gives utmost attention to the change in format.
“Not having the in-person labs is nothing like the online labs that they’re doing now. It’s almost like they’re taking a completely different course because it’s just so entirely different from being in the lab, using the chemicals, seeing all the materials, running the reactions,” she said. “All they do now is they watch videos online of somebody doing the experiment and then they have to note it word for word.”
Tutoring offers more to the student body beyond just the benefit of peer review.
The Tutoring Center is currently recruiting new tutors for the academic year 2021-22, as well as rehiring tutors currently employed. Links, deadlines and reuploads of their March information sessions for applicants can be found on the Tutoring Center website.
Aspiring tutors must have completed at least two full-time semesters at the College, have a minimum GPA of 3.10 with a grade of B+ or higher in the courses they wish to tutor, and must be available to work at least six hours per week.
Nicholas Cotogno, a graduate assistant who has been tutoring since 2018, went from English secondary education as an undergraduate to finishing up his Master’s degree. After the accelerated program, he is set to apply for jobs, hopefully teaching in the fall.
Interacting with the students in-person has been career preparation, the sessions preparing him for the future even as the medium changed. Although he’s now in a different position than the regular tutors, the hours dedicated to helping others at the center gave him practice.
He maintains that anyone can benefit from a session.
“Tutoring is not just for students who are getting a bad grade in the course, it’s really about deepening your learning. So even if you’re a high-performing student, there’s always room to grow, there’s always value in seeing another set of eyes on your work,” Cotogno said. “Just because you’re doing well in your classes doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else to learn, or that you can’t continue to grow even more.”