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Learning Center Provides Academic Assistance for Students

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

While many are stressed over holiday preparations, college students across the country face their own challenges as they enter Finals Week.  For Westminster College students, the Learning Center helps ease the strain.

The Learning Center provides free corrective and developmental services to all Westminster students by focusing on strategies that will help them learn more in less time and with greater ease.  Students who use the service may need to improve basic or existing skills or may be interested in strengthening advanced skills.  They may be referred by a professor or may seek the assistance on their own.

"The Learning Center offers students the opportunity to work on challenging subject matter with peers who are honor students," said Sally Huey, a Westminster graduate (1974) who also earned a master's degree (1977) from her alma mater and has been director of the Learning Center since 1991.  "We endeavor to provide assistance to improve student academic performance and assistance to faculty by developing skills within their students which may enhance success in the classroom." 

Huey supervises a staff of student volunteers who are carefully selected through a competitive process each spring.  Student applicants must not only excel academically (3.5 grade point average in their major), but also must be "quality people," as recommended from current and past faculty in each discipline.  After applications are submitted, Huey and a current teaching assistant from the same discipline interview and evaluate the candidates.  The quality of the interview, application, faculty recommendations, and teaching assistants' ratings are all considered in determining who will be selected.

Among the teaching assistants who have passed through the Learning Center are three current Westminster faculty: Dr. Helen Boylan '95, associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Sarah (Huffman) Kennedy '02, assistant professor of chemistry; and Dr. Kristianne Kalata Vaccaro '00, assistant professor of English.  The trio of professors shared their journey "from Westminster to Westminster" during a recent Learning Center monthly lunch meeting.

Vaccaro was a teaching assistant in writing, Spanish, and study skills for several semesters before becoming Huey's office assistant during her senior year.

"My time at the Center helped me begin to realize my passion for teaching," Vaccaro said.  "Though peer tutoring certainly differs from classroom teaching, I loved the opportunity to work one-on-one with students.  It was rewarding to encourage peers to vocalize concerns about their work and, following a successful session, to watch a peer leave the Center visibly empowered with the confidence and skills needed to strengthen a particular assignment."

In addition to her classroom teaching, Vaccaro coordinates student-led writing workshops on campus throughout the year.  "With the significant help of Sally Huey and her marvelous staff of writing TAs, these workshops remind the campus community of the importance of writing and endorse the value of peer-centered learning."

Contact Huey at (724) 946-6812 or email for additional information about Westminster's Learning Center.

About Westminster College...
Founded in 1852 and related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Westminster College ranks first in the nation as "Best College for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," according to Forbes.com. Westminster, a top-tier liberal arts college, ranks third in graduation rate performance, according to U.S. News Best Colleges guide. Westminster ranked 6th among liberal arts colleges in social mobility, according to the Washington Monthly College Guide, and is one of the most affordable national liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania. Westminster is also honored as one of "The Best 376 Colleges" by The Princeton Review, and is named to the President's Honor Roll for excellence in service learning.

Nearly 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students benefit from individualized attention from dedicated faculty while choosing from 42 majors and nearly 100 organizations on the New Wilmington, Pa., campus. Visit www.westminster.edu/advantage to view "Advantage: Westminster" A Strategic Plan 2010-2020.

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