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Q & A with Trista O'Connell

Supplemental Instruction Coordinator Committed to Student Academic Success

Feb. 25, 2014

Junior Stephan Carter

Junior Stephan Carter, left, a chemistry major, gets help during a recent supplemental instruction session on organic chemistry from student leader Peter Nguyen.

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Trista O'Connell, a former learning coordinator and assistant director of the University Learning Center, this spring has stepped into the new role of coordinator for Cal State Fullerton's Supplemental Instruction program.

The peer-led instruction program, now a part of the University Learning Center, has been shown to dramatically improve student retention and success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Earlier this year, the campus program received $458,000 from the California State University Chancellor's Office to promote and support student academic achievement across CSU campuses. The funding has made it possible to hire O'Connell, as well as to expand the program at CSUF, considered a model for the system.

A lecturer in American studies, O'Connell has utilized SI for her own class sections, observing firsthand how the program can help students improve their understanding of course materials and their grades.

What is your role as SI coordinator?

My role is to provide leadership in developing, implementing and promoting an exemplary and comprehensive SI program. I work closely with administrators and faculty liaisons in various colleges across campus to implement SI in targeted, high-risk and bottleneck courses. My role is to bring together the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, as I work closely with faculty, administrators, staff and students in order to meet the needs of the greater campus community.

Why take on this new role?

My philosophy, as an educator and professional, has always been to educate, engage and empower students, and to ultimately make them more successful students and individuals in their future endeavors. In the words of Cesar Chavez: "The end of all education should surely be service to others."

How does SI work?

SI utilizes student leaders, who have been successful in the course, to facilitate regularly scheduled SI sessions each week. SI study groups meet throughout the semester and focus on key course content and study skill strategies specific to the course. SI goes beyond "group tutoring," as it is a learning enhancement program to help students learn better in traditionally difficult courses.

What are students' results by participating in SI?

Supplemental instruction has proven to improve student grades in historically difficult courses, increase re-enrollment and persistence rates and ultimately improve graduation rates of participating students. In comparing the performance of students who attend SI sessions with non-participants, those students who attend SI sessions on average earn a full grade level higher than the non-participants.

What are your goals for the program?

It's exciting to be a part of the expansion and institutionalization of the SI Program at CSUF. It's wonderful to see the genuine excitement and enthusiasm of faculty, administrators and students across campus as SI is incorporated into new departments and courses. My goal is to see supplemental instruction become part of the overall culture of Cal State Fullerton. When SI is part of the Cal State Fullerton culture, the entire campus community benefits, as it increases student performance and retention.

How to you hope to achieve this?

I'd like for students to be initially introduced to SI in their first year on campus. In doing so, students would benefit from SI in several ways. First, they would develop essential learning and study skills that are critical the first year, which also would enable and empower them to become successful throughout their academic career. Moreover, SI fosters and promotes a culture of belonging as students form bonds with their peers. With SI, students become engaged and involved as they interact with peers through collaborative learning activities. SI, therefore, enables students to find a greater connection to the campus and only adds to their overall success.

For more information about supplemental instruction, visit the University Learning Center.

Media Contact:

Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research