Campus and Community

Supplemental Instruction Program Earns Recognition of Excellence

Students further explore academic topics during Supplemental Instruction Sessions. (Photo: Thomas B. Shea)

For college students, the journey toward discovery can be a long and winding road. Learning begins in the classroom and continues at different stops and resources along the way—library, writing center, tutoring or peer-mentoring sessions. Regardless of the route, students arrive at a common intellectual destination.

University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) students have the opportunity to take a unique detour to speed up their understanding of complex subjects, such as math or science.

Based in UHD’s University College, the Supplemental Instruction (SI) Program connects groups of students with peers, or SI Leaders, who reinforce class lessons through interactive exercises, workshops and mentorship. These Leaders are assigned to specific courses and support faculty instruction in and out of the classroom.

For its efforts in enhancing the learning experiences of students, the SI Program is being honored by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The Program will receive THECB’s Recognition of Excellence at the July 27 meeting in Austin.

“It goes without saying that this is a great honor. I commend the faculty, staff and students comprising UHD’s Supplemental Instruction Program for earning this distinction,” said Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, UHD President. “Their efforts are inspiring students to succeed in the classroom and ultimately, Finish UHD Strong. This acknowledgement from the state’s authority in higher education is validation of this program’s effectiveness and reflects UHD’s commitment to student success.”

Dr. Muñoz, members of the UHD community, including SI Coordinator Tanu K. Altomare, will attend upcoming July meeting.

“Being a part of this program for the past eight years has been extraordinary, and it’s truly an honor that our program is being recognized by higher education professionals across the state,” said Altomare, who will deliver a presentation on the SI Program at the THECB meeting. “We used to be UHD’s best-kept secret, but now, we have the opportunity to share our story.”

In 2009, Altomare joined the program during her sophomore year after receiving a recommendation from English professor Dr. Jon Harned. She began supporting students in a variety of disciplines, including English, math, history, psychology, chemistry, biology and physics.

“It’s very different from traditional tutoring,” she noted. “SI Leaders engage with students in the classroom and host separate group learning sessions…and that’s where the magic happens. During these sessions, SI Leaders conduct activities that help students become more interested in learning.”

As part of the learning sessions, SI Leaders lead students in educational games, including a math version of “Snakes and Ladders.” Activities such as this put a fun spin on academic subjects, but they also promote collaboration among the students.

Sessions aren’t aimed at just fun and games, Altomare added. The ultimate goal is for students to continue to work alongside one another after the sessions conclude.

“Some students, who participated in SI sessions, have continued to study together throughout their time at UHD,” she said. “It’s important that SI empowers students to start their own study groups.”

THECB took note of SI after awarding the Comprehensive Readiness and Success Models Acceleration Grant to Timothy A. Redl, UHD associate professor of mathematics, for his “Acceleration Model for Mathematics.” The grant supports student success in developmental mathematics courses during a semester.

Through Redl’s Acceleration Model for Mathematics, students have the opportunity to complete a developmental-level math course (Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra) during the first eight weeks of a semester. Once completed, they can complete a college-level math course (College Mathematics for Liberal Arts, College Algebra) during the semester’s final eight weeks. SI Leaders work with these students to ensure successful completion of these accelerated courses.

Last year, THECB members visited UHD to observe the SI Program and were impressed by the support of the SI Leaders.

“The UHD Supplemental Instruction Program has been integral to the success of the Acceleration Model for mathematics,” Redl said. “SI Leaders provide valuable assistance to both the instructor and students in the course. They attend each class meeting, take notes, and offer help to students during in-class activities, as well as assist students outside of class during SI sessions and exam reviews.”

Inspired by The International Center for Supplemental Instruction at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the SI Program at UHD had humble beginnings when it started in 2000. Today, UHD is now home to more than 40 SI Leaders.

Just as students benefit from their support, SI Leaders also reap many awards from the experience of helping fellow Gators.

“SI Leaders gain communication and presentation skills,” Altomare said. “They also learn to be mentors to students and new SI Leaders. They also gain a new family and build lasting friendships. It’s a great program that impacts many UHD students. I’m grateful to still be a part of it.”