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Student coaches help peers excel in engineering


Ohio State student Martha Cibasu wouldn’t be a chemical engineering major today without the support she received through the Academic Coaching in Engineering (ACE) Program.

Students study and chat in a lecture hall.
The Academic Coaching in Engineering Program offers inclusive spaces where students can study with each other and get help from peer coaches. [photo taken prior to pandemic]

“I wouldn’t have stayed in engineering if it wasn’t for ACE,” Cibasu said. “Being able to spend time with people who understand the same struggle as me, who have been through the same classes and get help was extremely helpful.”

ACE provides peer-assisted tutoring and supplemental instruction led by upper-level engineering students to diverse and women students to help them succeed. On average the program helps more than 100 students per year, said Edwin Lee, who manages ACE. 

More importantly, he added, the program provides explicitly inclusive spaces for learning.

“Engineering is about problem-solving and learning some comfort with being wrong and using that experience to figure out how to come to correct solutions,” he explained. “If students do not feel safe to participate in that process without judgment, without feeling like someone's getting impatient with them, it becomes difficult for them to really engage the way that we would like them to.”

ACE supports first-year core engineering and pre-requisite courses, including Fundamentals of Engineering, chemistry, physics and math classes ranging from algebra to calculus. Coaching is also provided for many second-year engineering courses and beyond, depending on the expertise of the academic coaches.

Generous support from donors like Kim Riedel ’90, ’93, Timothy Pinkston ’85 and General Motors enabled the program to not only increase the breadth of supported courses, but also to make academic coaches available during a wider range of times. The added flexibility was especially critical as ACE switched to virtual sessions during the pandemic to keep both students and coaches safe. 

“From 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. throughout the week, there is something going on with the Academic Coaching in Engineering Program,” Lee said. “Donor support also enables us to expand our reach and continue to support the widest set of students possible.”

Computer science and engineering major Dylan Cummings turned to ACE after struggling with calculus.

“I failed my calculus class the first time. But I took it again, this time with ACE being the forefront of my focus,” he said. “The resources they provided helped so much. I went from failing the class to finishing with a B+.”

The program teaches metacognition strategies to help students plan, monitor and assess their understanding and performance.

“We're trying to not only help them with adapting their learning methods to their first-year courses, but also instilling this set of skills for them to be able to utilize as they matriculate through their programs,” Lee explained.

Each of the program’s 10 student academic coaches attends a weekend training on metacognitive tutoring practices before they begin working for ACE. 

“I teach them the methods for guiding students through problem-solving,” Lee said. “They’re also observed during sessions and receive feedback on good methods and how to improve their communication.”

Two students look intently at a laptop.
ACE coach Nina Moore (right) talks to a fellow student. [photo taken prior to pandemic]

After benefitting from attending supplemental instruction as a first-year student, civil engineering major Nina Moore is now in her third year of being an ACE coach. She provides supplemental instruction for math and civil engineering courses.

“Giving students an environment where they feel safe, where they can learn, where there are people who look like them, I think that's extremely beneficial,” Moore said. “It helps build confidence.”

In addition to the supportive environment, ACE’s focus on learning strategies made a big difference for Cibasu.

“Calculus was one of the hardest classes I’ve taken. I wasn’t even understanding the homework, because I didn’t know where this concept is coming from, where to begin?” she said. “The coaches guide you through what you should be thinking about in order to solve the problem.”

As a passionate proponent of the benefits of an engineering degree, Riedel was inspired to support ACE to help students, especially those from underserved groups, master the challenging curriculum.

“My educational background has made such an important difference in my life. It’s shaped everything about my future and I want other people to have that same opportunity,” she said. “If you can just get through the engineering programs, which are very difficult, there are so many options for you as far as a job.”

A generous three-way match from Riedel’s employer, ITW, furthered the impact of her gift.

“As an employee, I’m very proud that I can direct money to such a significant program and that they’ll match it,” she said. “This is a company that really believes in inclusion, wants to make a difference and gives the employees the chance to do that.”

The program also made a difference for mechanical and aerospace engineering major Saffilla Allie, who utilized ACE for assistance with chemistry and physics. She appreciated not only the ability to get help from the academic coaches, but also that ACE provides a place where students can connect with and work with their peers.

“ACE has had such a substantial effect on my academic career. Having that support helped guide me and they were really encouraging,” Allie said. “Because of the background I had in the first few years of going through ACE, it has helped me progress to where I am right now.”

Make a gift to support mentoring, academic success and professional development programming for currently enrolled underrepresented minorities and women in engineering.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, 

Categories: StudentsGiving