Math Peer Mentors Provide Help and Support to Ease Students’ Anxiety

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Math may be difficult, daunting, and anxiety-producing, but help is available. Student peer mentors can provide the extra help and support that students may need to be successful in their math classes and maybe even in their majors.

Janalee Poe, who is a double major in Math and Secondary Education with a History minor, serves as a peer mentor in Trigonometry. She said that part of her work as a peer mentor is helping students overcome their fear of math. “I try to help students get over their math anxiety and apprehension. It isn’t that they can’t do math; they just have a fear of it,” Poe said.

Kevin Dudley, a Chemistry major, serves as a peer mentor in co-requisite math courses (formerly developmental math). Dudley believes some students are more comfortable asking questions to a peer mentor instead of a professor. “We are truly their peer. We can relate to them and their struggles as a student.”

Throughout this past semester, Dudley said it was rewarding to see improvement in the students’ grades as well as in their confidence.

Poe said her “favorite part is to see the light bulb come on when [the students] finally understand a concept they have been struggling with. And, I really enjoy when I get an email from students when they do a great job on a test. It makes me know that my Saturday wasn’t wasted,” she said with a laugh.

Peer mentors in the College of Science and Technology are specifically assigned to courses and are available to work with students individually or in small study groups throughout the semester. In the upcoming Spring 2015 semester, peer mentoring will be available in math, chemistry, biology, and physics, and will possibly expand into other subject areas as well.

Peer mentoring is one of the initiatives funded by Fairmont State’s Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant. Fairmont State’s Title III project identifies courses with the highest rates of D’s, F’s and withdrawals and pilots strategies designed to help improve student success in these courses. In addition to peer mentoring, other teaching strategies are used to make the curricula more collaborative, experiential and technology-rich. The peer mentoring program in the College of Science and Technology was launched near the end of the Spring 2014 semester, with the Fall 2014 semester marking the first full semester for the program.

Robynn Shannon, Ph.D., serves as the STEM Learning Coordinator for the Title III project in the College of Science and Technology. She oversees the mentoring program as well as facilitates other teaching and learning strategies piloted by the grant.

“Based on our experience to date, I am convinced that Student Peer Mentoring is the most effective of the Title III initiatives for improving student success and retention,” Shannon said.  “The effectiveness of this type of program is well supported by the research literature, as well as anecdotally from a number of other institutions.”

Dudley emphasized that peer mentoring is more than tutoring. While peer mentoring offers individual and small group sessions to provide students with extra help with the course material, it provides much more. “This is not just homework help; it’s helping students with the skills they will need in order to be successful and also connecting them to the resources available on campus,” said Dudley.

As a nontraditional student, who considers himself to be on “strike two,” Dudley brings important perspective to mentoring.

“I know the price for failing,” Dudley said. Previously enrolled at Fairmont State in 1988 through 1991, Dudley ended up dropping out of college. “I didn’t even withdraw from my classes. I just stopped going. I was young and didn’t know much about how college works.” 

Coming back to FSU in 2012, Dudley has a different perspective and a keen focus. However, he also has many additional responsibilities. In addition to a full class schedule as a Chemistry major and serving as a peer mentor, Dudley is married, has two young  children, and works a part-time job. Not to mention, he lives in Elkins and drives to campus four days a week, with an hour and a half commute each way. 

“Ultimately, I know that I’m in control of my own education and future, and I try to impress that upon the other students as well,” Dudley said.

Poe serves as a peer mentor for two sections of Trigonometry. She also carries a full class load, and she is an Honors student. Additionally, she works as a research assistant in the Honors Program office.

While the mentoring program has obvious benefits to the students who take advantage of the services, Poe said that serving as a peer mentor has been a great opportunity for her personally. Being a peer mentor for Trigonometry has convinced Poe of her own future career path. “This experience has helped me to know for sure that I want to teach math, and I want to teach at the high school level.”

“It’s also great to be able to use what I am learning in my education classes to help me individualize how I present information to the students I mentor based on their learning styles,” Poe said.