PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- May 16, 2001 -- Bill Preston has the unusual title of "writing consultant" for the Academic Skills Center at the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education at the University of Rhode Island, assigned to work with a history class filled with adult students. The 46-year-old student is also a computer tutor, helping fellow students ease on to the technology superhighway.
"When youre out of school for a number of years, your skills are dull. You need to know how to reawaken your talents," says the man who only two and a half years ago thought technology had passed him by.
"If it werent for the Academic Skills Center, a number of students would probably give up. You have to remember we are not kids here," he says. "Most of us are working, many of us have families. When youre asked to write a thesis and you have no idea how to begin, its easy to say to hell with it."
Preston is one of a number of enthusiastic students working and tutoring in the Colleges Academic Skills Center, committed to helping classmates succeed in college.
The Center evolved from a Writing Center established during the mid 1980s with one very part-time employee in the basement of the old CCE building on Promenade Street.
Today, the Center located on the third floor of the renovated Shepard building offers free help to any student who wants to improve his or her learning skills. In addition, students for whom English is a second language and students with learning, physical, or psychological disabilities can receive specialized assistance. On average, the Center annually gives 210 computer tutorials, 275 math tutorials, 160 Spanish tutorials, and 300 writing tutorials.
Tammy Bolotow, who earned an undergraduate psychology degree from the College in 1980 and a masters in English literature and comparative literature from Simmons, is the coordinator. The Center has two part-time English faculty members who tutor writing and one part-time math professor who helps remove some of the anxiety. The rest of the Center employees are paid student workers with academic strength like Preston. The Center receives some support from donors like Diane Smith who gave a contribution in memory of her daughter who was a returning adult student.
"By far, computer tutors are the most in demand. Returning students often enroll with virtually no computer experience. Spanish tutors are also in demand and students are often seeking help with math and writing two subjects that produce a preconceived idea of failure," says the coordinator.
The Center has a special computer with interactive software for students who are visually impaired or have learning disabilities. In fact, one visually impaired student learned how to use the computer and is now tutoring another visually impaired student.
One of the most innovative programs run by the Center is the Undergraduate Writing Consultants Program initiated at ASF-CCE last fall by URI English Professor Linda Shamoon, who heads URIs College Writing Program. Faculty with classes with a writing component were asked if they could benefit from having a writing consultant assigned to their class. They were also asked to recommend names of successful former students who could be potential consultants.
"The program is growing by leaps and bounds," says Bolotow. "The students love it. The faculty love it. The consultants love it."
Five faculty members signed on initially. This spring, 14 more wanted to be part of the project. There are writing consultants assigned to classes in human development, counseling and family studies, psychology classes, nursing classes, writing classes, and general studies (BGS) classes.
For their work, tutors earn three credits that are paid by a Feinstein scholarship.
"The Center is the best resource we have," says Preston, who recalls sitting with a student who literally wrote three word sentences. "I showed him how to organize a paper. We talked about content and what he wanted to say," says the writing consultant. "I dont write papers for students, I show them how. And when they get it, you should see them light up. And when they do, a little piece of me goes with them.
Preston hopes to go to graduate school and earn a masters in history. Eventually he probably will teach. "I seem to have a calling for that," he says.
For Information: Tamara Bolotow, 277-5221, Jan Sawyer, 874-2116