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MCCC Science Learning Center Offers Students a Place for Serious Science

3/29/17


The Science Learning Center provides students with a place for independent study and group review and much more. Students say that studying in the center has bolstered their confidence -- and their grades.

Peer tutor Savannah Dziepak is popular with many students. She plans to continue her studies at William Paterson University as part of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

Professor of Biology Laura Blinderman volunteers in the center, along with three other faculty members, and peer tutors.

West Windsor, N.J. – There is a resource room on the second floor of Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC’s) Science Building that is quiet yet humming with activity, as students engage in study sessions, complete assignments, and prepare for exams under the guidance of peer tutors and faculty mentors.

Welcome to the Science Learning Center (SLC) at the West Windsor Campus, which started as a small, sparsely furnished room in 2013 and has grown into a major and heavily utilized resource center in just three years. Initiated through an MCCC Student Learning Improvement grant, the center received a generous supplemental grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb that allowed for essential equipment and staffing.

According to Professor of Biology Laura Blinderman, who pursued the original grant, the center has exceeded every expectation.

“College level science courses are rigorous and students delve into concepts much more deeply than in high school. Our goal is to help them absorb the material, succeed on their exams, and build their confidence for future courses,” Blinderman explains. “We especially want to provide students with the opportunity to use materials and equipment they use in the lab, but otherwise do not have a chance to practice with.”

This past fall alone, the SLC counted over 800 student visits. Students came to study Anatomy and Physiology, General Biology, Microbiology, Genetics, Introductory Chemistry and Organic Chemistry.

The center, which is open 40 hours per week Monday through Friday, is well-equipped and ready to serve. There are textbooks for all courses, as well as numerous models, bones, dissected specimen, microscopes and prepared slides. Two laptop computers allow students to engage in online dissection, access online tutorial sites, and review course materials posted by their instructors. Portable tables and chairs enable students to work in small or large groups, while a whiteboard allows for group review. In addition, students can meet with their advisors to talk about future courses, transfer, scholarships, research, and careers.

Teaching Assistant Patrick Natale is the center’s coordinator.  Additionally, four science faculty members volunteer their time. And, a paid peer tutoring program began last year that gives serious science students a chance to put on their teacher caps and reinforce their own learning as they assist fellow students.

One of the current tutors is Savannah Dziepak, who is in her second semester as a biology and chemistry tutor. On average, she assists 15 students per week and many more prior to major assignments and exams.  Dziepak is planning to attend William Paterson University after Mercer, with generous tuition funding supplied by the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which supports students who will become science and math teachers after earning their bachelor’s degrees.

The SLC’s tutor training curriculum was developed by Biology faculty member Ellen Genovesi. Tutors are trained in lab safety, tutoring practice and SLC policies. The training requires approximately 10 hours of online and on-site preparation, including case scenarios and discussion groups.

Student Evan Bohan comes to the center often to complete homework assignments and review science concepts. He says he is grateful for this special resource. “It has been really helpful, especially the microscopes for biology classes. You can come in and grab the slides and all that good stuff.”

According to Natale, the supplemental instruction, especially by peer tutors, is highly worthwhile. “Students get a lot out of visiting this room. There’s definitely a comfort level that comes with students learning from their peer tutors. If they are having difficulty using the microscope in class, they can come here and learn from a fellow student. They can use that knowledge as a foundation for the rest of their careers,” Natale said.

The weekly schedule of tutors, staff, and faculty is posted so that students know when someone with specific expertise will be available.

The SLC’s next project is to develop a station for Physics students.  An additional similarly-equipped center recently opened at the James Kerney Campus in Trenton.

Blinderman reports that the feedback she receives from students about the SLC is overwhelmingly positive. “Students are grateful to have a place to gather and study together. They say their grades have improved, often significantly, and their confidence has grown. They describe working with fellow students as a motivating experience. Some simply enjoy a quiet place to review materials independently,” she said.

Blinderman reflects with satisfaction on the growth of the SLC.  “What began as a pilot program located in a small space has grown to a full service room that serves hundreds of students each semester.  Through grants and donations, we hope to continue to expand what we can offer.  We believe we are creating true pathways to success for our students,” Blinderman said.


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