Student Tutors Keep the CTLR Going

Photograph of CTLR student assistants Sabina Haque, Sadie Dutton, Tim Hansen, Julia Desmarais, Diana Carmona, and Monica Kramer.

CTLR student assistants.  Back row (L to R): Sabina Haque, ’18; Sadie Dutton, ’19; and Tim Hansen, ’18. Front row (L to R): Julia Desmarais, ’18; Diana Carmona, ’18; Monica Kramer, ’18. Not pictured: Nina Colombotos, ’18. Photo credit: Rafael (Raf) Hernandez Cruz

Nestled in the back of the main floor, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR) is, physically speaking, just a small part of the library.  But despite its limited size, its reach extends into every conceivable area of campus.  The Center hosts faculty development events almost every week, and every day student tutors run one-to-one and drop-in tutoring sessions in writing, foreign languages and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. The Center also organizes the annual Spring Symposium, a massive affair that takes over Bicentennial Hall with presentations of the finest student research.

The CTLR’s secret weapon is its student staff.  Student tutors spend weeks each semester in training, learning how best to serve their student colleagues needing assistance, within the bounds of the College Honor Code.  Student office workers are responsible for setting up and tearing down after these sessions, as well as staffing larger events like the Symposium and the yearly Ward Prize ceremony.  Every student who comes to the CTLR looking for assistance—from seniors inquiring about research grants to first-years making their first tutoring request—will likely speak to a student worker.

None of this work would be possible without the Center’s seven student supervisors. Sabina Haque, ’18, Head First Year Seminar Mentor, describes her job as “mostly people management,” and this sentiment is echoed by Sadie Dutton, ’19, STEM Peer Tutor Supervisor, who describes her job as making sure the “extensive network” of STEM tutors “runs smoothly.”  Much of the scheduling—of drop-in writing tutors and of the office staff that sits behind the desk from noon to midnight—is done by student supervisors, and it often falls to student supervisors to make sure their colleagues follow through on these obligations, or to follow up when these obligations are not met.

Even though these positions necessarily involve the unglamorous aspects of administrative work, the relationships that develop among student staff are a highlight of being a student supervisor. Tim Hansen, ’18, Office Assistant Supervisor, describes their job as “scheduling and coordinating student workers,” but notes that this requires engaging with students beyond making sure they come to their assigned shifts.  “I always try to have conversations with office workers—at the shift change, or during my weekly ‘office hours’—to see how they’re doing in general, and how I can help them in my capacity as a supervisor… I think we’re more motivated to do our jobs well if we actually know the other people we’re working with.”

Some of the student supervisors also work as tutors, and this has its own rewards. Diana Carmona, ’18, Head Drop-In Tutor, has a weekly drop-in shift in the CTLR, and the experience working with students on their essays widens her academic perspective: “Sometimes, I forget that classes outside my major exist.  Interactions with my tutees have definitely influenced my course search processes.”  Sadie Dutton also finds that she learns new things, even when working in well-trodden territory: “My favorite part of my job is getting to rediscover old coursework through a different lens as I explain it to a student.  Helping reframe course material in a way that makes sense to a student is a very satisfying feeling, and sheds new light on familiar subjects.”

A consistent theme in how these student supervisors talk about their jobs is the way their tutoring work relates to confidence.  Julia Desmarais, ’18, Head Writing Tutor says the best part of her job is “working with someone who comes in worried about an assignment, and watching them leave feeling much more confident and assured.  I love to see that difference and to know that I’ve made their night a little less stressful.”  Nina Colombotos, ’18, Student Supervisor for Foreign Language Tutoring, places the idea of confidence in a slightly different context: “Many of us got to Middlebury by being self-driven and independent, and that’s a great thing.  But everyone can benefit from meeting with a tutor, regardless of the subject area.  I hope we can work on rethinking the stigma around asking for help at the College.”  Tutoring can be a way to give students confidence in their intellectual capabilities, but it can also make them more comfortable asking for help.

Regardless of their specific roles, every student supervisor urges students who are unsure of their needs to give the CTLR a try.  Many of the tutoring supervisors also receive help from the CTLR, even in their own subject areas.  Diana Carmona says that “even as a tutor, I’ll stop by during drop-in hours and try to decipher a really complex prompt with someone else.”  Monica Kramer, ’18.5, Social Media Manager for the Writing Center, who also runs a drop-in shift, reminds students that writing tutors “can help with any aspect of a paper, whether [clients] are coming in with just a rough idea or a fairly polished paper.”

Although their jobs range far and wide, the CTLR student supervisors are glad to work there.  They cite various skills gained from working at the CTLR, including “administrative responsibility,” “the ability to communicate ideas clearly and effectively,” and an aptness for “see[ing] a certain subject through another’s eyes.”  The CTLR is not only a valuable resource in students’ academic growth, but also an important place for working students to gain professional skills.  These are strengths that they can apply not only in other positions on campus, but also as they move into new chapters of their lives.