By John Syme
Davidson students wrestling with algorithmic derivatives, quantum wave dynamics, or D. melanogaster genetics have a new place to go for help. The Davidson College Math and Science Center offers free peer support to students during late evening hours, in a dedicated space in Belk Residence Hall adjacent to one of the campus’s largest computer labs.
The center is funded as part of a $1.5-million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said Verna Case, Associate Dean for Student and Faculty Support. When that grant was awarded, Davidson hired Assistant Professor of Biology Mark Barsoum to be the center’s new director. “We get about 80 visits per week by students seeking help across all the disciplines we serve—math, physics, chemistry, biology,
and psychology,” he said.
Davidson’s strategic plan includes the goal of creating “a Center for Teaching and Learning that supports academic pursuits of students and faculty, incorporating programs in writing, oral communication, digital literacy, tutoring, mathematics and science, support for students with special needs, and others.” The Math and Science Center fits right in.
Early reviews are thumbs up.
Tutor Caroline Vaughan ’10, a physics major who will study engineering at the University of California Berkeley next year, says the tutors themselves are learning how to teach. “You could explain something 15 times, and then when you draw it once, they get it immediately. Or you might come at something from an energy standpoint instead of in terms of Newton’s Law.”
That diversity of approaches works for Jake Thompson ’12, who said that sometimes, “the hard way” is where he starts. And peer tutors get that. “They’re really patient with you because they do the same homework with a lot of people a lot of times!”
“The best part of being a tutor,” said Vaughan, “is when someone says, ‘Oh my God, that makes so much sense!’”