Youve enrolled in the College of Engineering. You arrive, settle down in an introductory course, and . . .begin to sink. What is all this language? Why cant I figure out where the professor is heading with this material? How can I stay cool when Im in a panic?
Since this kind of first-year adjustment problem is not unusual, the college has a solution: a math or engineering student will tutor you. Just drop in to the Tutoring Center in 2133 Seamans Center from 6 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and free tutors will be available.
Students may request tutoring in Physics I and II, Calculus I and II, Vector Calculus, Engineering I and II, Principles of Chemistry, Differential Equations, Matrix Algebra, Statics, Dynamics, and Circuits. The tutors must have taken these subjects and passed them successfully before they sign up to teach them to others.
The program has grown steadily since it was founded in 1997. In that year, 24 students used the service. In calendar year 2001, 1,070 students were tutored. The number of tutors has grown from five or fewer in 1997 to 42 now. Tutoring was available for only one and one-half hours per night and now is three hours per night for five nights a week.
Frequently, students who come to the center for help have just lost confidence, tutors say.
Jacob Wilson, a junior in mechanical engineering from Elgin, Ill., tutors Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights for a total of 12 hours of work.
I have a lot of regular customers, he says. A few come in because they havent adjusted to learning in 300-student classes. Some come in because theyre not sure of themselves yet and are afraid to get the wrong answer.
They really know the subject but they need reassurance, Wilson says. Thats mostly what I doI push them a little bit.
One reason students might need a push is the formidable reputation of the College of Engineering. From about 1,000 applications received every year, the college enrolls only about 250 first-year students. Undergraduates enter directly into the college in their first year.
The average ACT score of incoming engineering students has been above the 90th percentile level nationally for many years. Engineering students, who constitute six percent of the total University enrollment, are awarded more than 20 percent of the top first-year student merit scholarships.
So first-year students find themselves in a student body of 1,4001,100 of them undergraduates. Their fellow students show exceptional academic ability, which can be intimidating if the new student doesnt realize that acceptance into the college means that he or she is considered to be an exceptional student, too.
Another reason for the students temporary problem is that they havent studied engineering before. Students have taken English, so transition to a college English major is less difficult. Even a more complex subject like physics is also taught in high school. Engineering, however, is a whole new discipline.
These students come out of high school and they face a completely new subject with a lot of new concepts, Wilson says. Thats hard for everyone to do at first.
Wilson, a transfer student, says he has a good background in calculus, trigonometry, and other subjects beginning engineers take. He was looking for a work-study job and knew he would like tutoring because he likes to teach. But teaching is not where Wilson is headed.
Id like to go into robotics or race car development, he says.
Gwyneth Wilker, a sophomore engineering student from Oregon, says she joined the Engineering Tutorial Program because she wanted to help people.
I know firsthand how difficult the classes can be and a little extra help can mean the difference between understanding and confusion, she says. Ive seen people come in for help with every subject we offer tutoring in. Some nights, I spend 10 minutes each with five people answering simple questions, and sometimes I sit down with someone for more than an hour explaining a difficult concept by doing multiple examples.
However, whether their questions are difficult or simple, it always makes me smile to hear a student go, Oh! That makes sense now! Wilker says.
In addition to the tutor program, the college recently established a unique Center for Technical Communication, designed to teach students efficient ways to conduct research, gather evidence, and consider the audiences and help them gain confidence as speakers and writers.
Students who use the centers services already have taken the Universitys rhetoric course, which introduces them to effective writing, speaking, and reading strategies.
The Engineering Tutorial Program information and schedule are at www.engineering.uiowa.edu/~sdcnet.
By Anne Tanner