Every tutor searches for that “magic moment” — the opportunity to witness a student suddenly see the light through a murky question or concept and grow a deeper understanding and a greater enthusiasm for learning right before the tutor’s eyes.
Colin Yost ’19 expressed his satisfaction with these favorite moments that come with being a tutor at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, describing the immediate reward of helping students grow into better thinkers and then watching them aid their peers to solve difficult questions in group tutoring sessions.
“It is more about fostering mentality in students and problem-solving strategies with them so that they can eventually work independently and can even serve as a tutor to their own peers,” Yost explained.
Established in 1999-2000 with the help of Harold W. McGraw, Jr. ’40, the McGraw Center was envisioned under the leadership of former University President Harold T. Shapiro.
On March 2, 1998, Shapiro gave a speech in reference to the center’s namesake, who was president of the McGraw-Hill Book Company for 20 years.
“Harold McGraw has had a long devotion to literacy and education, and with this generous gift to Princeton he is helping us redefine teaching and learning for future generations,” Shapiro said in the speech.
Since it was founded, the McGraw Center has grown tremendously.
During the fall semester of 2014, McGraw received over 3,800 visits during the fall semester in 2014 and was expecting to receive over 7,600 visits by the end of the year.
Just two years later in the fall of 2016, the Center received 5,272 visits to study hall and individual tutoring sessions from 990 unique students — approximately 15 percent of the total undergraduate population, according to Nic Voge, Associate Director of the Center’s Undergraduate Learning Program, and Geneva Stein, the assistant director of the program.
“We estimate well over half of Princeton Students visit McGraw at some point during their academic careers,” Voge and Stein reported.
According to statistics provided by Voge and Stein, of these students who took advantage of McGraw Center tutoring in the Fall of 2016, 22 percent were juniors and seniors, 28 percent were sophomores, and 50 percent were freshmen. 25 percent were candidates for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering while 75 percent were candidates for a Bachelor of Arts.
“Use of our tutoring has increased as compared to last year,” Voge and Stein wrote in an email. “While there could be many factors behind fluctuations in usage in particular courses, one reliable predictor of change is size of enrollment in a course. More generally, as with almost all units on campus, we always have fewer students attend our programming in the spring.”
According to Clay Byers GS, graduate coordinator for the McGraw Center, this growth in student visits speaks to the professionalism of the tutors in dealing with that volume of so many people at once as well as to the success of the program in aiding students — especially freshmen — who need help adjusting to the difficulty of various courses.
“Seeing the attendance numbers increase makes me hopeful that more people are aware of our invaluable resource, and that any negative stigma of seeking help is going away,” Byers said.
The Center’s three Graduate Coordinators — Clay Byers, Sabrina Carletti, and Elizabeth Davison — are responsible for interviewing and hiring new tutors, providing access to the McGraw Center after regular business hours, tracking attendance, providing feedback, and developing training programs for professional and personal growth.
Carletti and Davison did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
Voge said in an email that in regard to staffing, McGraw has 160 undergraduate tutors, administrators, and substitute tutors that work in the program as well as three graduate student coordinators who run the program at night.
“We occasionally hire freshmen in the spring, but our tutors are usually sophomores, juniors, and seniors,” Voge added.
McGraw’s establishment of head tutors has also allowed the center to achieve its goal of greater organization between course instructors and tutors, said Patrick Flanigan ’18, a former head tutor for the Introduction to Macroeconomics course (ECO 101) and a current substitute tutor.
As a head tutor, Flanigan said he attended weekly meetings with the professor and preceptors to go over the challenging course material and then coordinate with tutors to plan out the week. Head tutors are also tasked with leading training sessions for tutors, who are required to have two trainings per semester.
Christie Chong ’20 said she benefitted both academically and socially as a pupil in the study halls and group tutoring sessions at the McGraw Center for her chemistry and microeconomics courses.
“It has been really nice to be able to meet people at the McGraw Center who are in my class so that we are able to study together for quizzes and tests,” Chong said.
Chong noted that what impressed her the most was the supportive environment created by the tutors, who she felt take time and effort to help students work through difficult questions and solve them on their own.
Chong also took full advantage of the Center’s extensive individual tutoring program. During her fall semester, she managed to set up weekly private tutoring through her residential college Director of Student Life for her General Chemistry (CHM 201) course.
In order to address common misconceptions about the McGraw Center, Flanigan stressed that it is vitally important for faculty members who teach courses offered at McGraw to understand that McGraw is not an answer-giving service.
“This is not what we are — we are for providing study spaces where students interact with each other and are thinking about ways to solve problems,” Flanigan said. Eliminating this misconception will allow for better communication between professors and head tutors and for more helpful information to be passed to study hall tutors to improve the program as a whole, he added.
Voge said that McGraw has implemented a robust feedback system to constantly improve its services.
“In addition to the once-a-semester survey that we send out to students, we have shorter feedback forms that students can fill out after their tutoring appointments. Our tutors also fill our weekly reflections, giving us additional feedback about their work,” Voge wrote.
Apart from the center’s tutoring services, Yost believes that McGraw should work to better promote its learning strategies consultations — one-on-one appointments in which Yost received helpful tools to strengthen his approach to learning at the University prior to becoming a tutor.
“Learning strategies consultants are undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of disciplines who are trained to collaborate with students to develop an individualized approach to learning which draws upon their unique profile of strengths and is tailored to the specific demands of each of your courses,” the McGraw Center website reads.
As part of its Inclusive Teaching at Princeton series, the Center recently kick started the Classroom (IN)Sight Juried Student Photography Competition. Students are encouraged to convey their special learning experiences and stories at the University by producing vivid photographic art of University classrooms, laboratories, and learning spaces.
“The configurations of these spaces and their histories, evident in the color of the wood, the creaking of the floors, and the changing identities of those welcomed between their walls, influence the experience of all who enter, teachers and learners alike,” the Center posted.
Although the McGraw Center has come a long way since its founding, Voge and Stein mentioned that there is still plenty of room for progress. Several future initiatives include responding to new challenges in the curriculum (i.e. the proliferation of R programming in various courses), as well as greater support for students completing Junior Papers and other independent work.
Most importantly, the directors emphasized that the aim of the McGraw Center cannot be summarized by educational support alone; rather, it aims to help students improve as human beings.
“Our aim is not only to help students thrive by enhancing their academic and learning methods and processes but help them focus on developing new strategies for thriving throughout their lives. We already think about students, their learning and success holistically, but we plan to use insights from the relatively new field of positive psychology research to increase this focus,” explained the directors.
This article has been corrected to clarify the difference in the number of visits during the 2012-2013 academic year from the current academic year.