Why college tutors help high schoolers with homework

Student tutors take calls nightly at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and a few other colleges and universities

What’s in it for a university that hires its students to provide free math and science tutoring to middle and high school students who are struggling with their assignments?

In Indiana, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s AskRose Homework Help service conducted more than 32,000 tutoring sessions last year.

The student tutors improved their communication skills and learned to look at problems from new angles, says Susan Smith Roads, director of AskRose.

“We know our students are going to be outstanding engineers, mathematicians and scientists,” Roads says. “We also want to make sure they’re good citizens. This encourages them to give back to the community.”

About 30 tutors staff AskRose from 7-10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. They provide assistance via email, webchats, and occasionally over the phone. Tutors have also used Skype to tutor classrooms of students.

“The tutors do not just give answers; they guide students through homework so they understand the concepts,” Roads says. “The tutors ask lots of probing questions to get that lightbulb moment going with the students.”

College tutors strengthen community trust

Harvey Mudd College, a top-ranked STEM school in Southern California, partnered with Rose-Hulman in 2010 to establish a similar homework help program. The free service—which is open to students in grades 4-12—has strengthened the college’s relationships with surrounding communities, says Gabriela Gamiz, Harvey Mudd’s director of community engagement.

Read more: Helping the haphazard college student

“A higher level of trust has been built, and we hear back from our community partners that they want to work more closely with Harvey Mudd,” Gamiz says.

Eight students out of a team of about 40 serve as tutors Monday through Thursday from 6-9 p.m. Half of the tutors are part of the college’s work-study program, and the evening schedule also provides a convenient time for students to give back to the community, Gamiz says.

The tutors report they are growing more confident explaining complex ideas over the phone, a valuable skill when it comes to job interviews, she adds.

Some are also becoming more aware of socioeconomic conditions in the region. Tutors get the most calls about algebra I, a graduation requirement in California public schools, which some callers have taken multiple times. This situation has opened the tutors’ eyes to some of the struggles faced by local public school students, Gamiz says.

Masters of modern math

At Rose-Hulman, tutors have access to most of the math and science textbooks used in Indiana’s middle schools and high schools. AskRose’s website also offers hundreds of additional resources for K-12 students, Roads says.

Rose-Hulman's AskRose college tutors have received nearly unanimous approval from high school users who have responded to surveys about the homework help service.
Rose-Hulman’s AskRose college tutors have received nearly unanimous approval from high school users who have responded to surveys about the homework help service.

“Our tutors have just recently finished high school, so their goal is to help students understand concepts in the way those concepts are taught in school today,” Roads says.

The team at Rose-Hulman assesses the program nightly by survey, and 99% of users have said they would contact AskRose again.

AskRose is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and Rose-Hulman, while Harvey Mudd’s service is funded by a private donor.

Both schools heavily promote their services in regional high schools and on social media.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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