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NMSU students count on the Math Success Center for boost

Last year, Dane Cooke, an international business major at New Mexico State University, needed extra help in his algebra class, because he didn't understand the material. He didn't get the help and failed the class. This year, he's succeeding with thousands of other NMSU students who are taking advantage of the free tutoring at the College of Arts and Sciences' Math Success Center.



Jim Armendariz, a sophomore majoring in Agricultural Economics, works on his math homework at the Math Success Center in Walden Hall. (photo by Darren Phillips)

"Currently, I've gotten A's on both my quizzes and homework assignments," Cooke said. "The center has been able to help me to understand the material, and made it to where I help out a few of my classmates now."

The Math Success Center, located at Walden Hall, provides NMSU students with free tutoring for an array of math disciplines. The facility also provides a secure testing center and is home to NMSU's math placement exams. Total student visits to the success center are estimated at 20,000 per semester.

"The bulk of our tutoring is for both intermediate and college level algebra, business and engineering calculus, plus beginning statistics courses," said Larry Hughes, the center's director. "Each of these disciplines has very different questions. We take any question and try and help the student with it, but we don't do their homework."

The center employs more than 40 tutors who are math graduate students or undergrads majoring in chemistry, physics, economics, engineering and mathematics. They assist up to 500 students a day who are primarily seeking help with homework.

"You could ask the tutors the same question twice, three times, and they're going to help you out," said Tymiah Williams, an NMSU sophomore majoring in early childhood education.

Hughes said the tutors approach math questions by asking the students what they've completed so far. That way, the tutor can see where the student is on a specific problem, and lead them in a direction that solves the problem.

"When you're in a class they explain things a lot differently than they would explain it if it was just one-to-one," said Caliope Ortiz an NMSU biology major who uses the center to study for pre-calculus exams. "The way some things were just explained, it felt like I was illuminated, and I understand it a lot better."

"Other students come in because they may be completely lost, and they're hoping to find someone to go over whole sections or several bits of information," said Alex Alvarado, the tutor coordinator who oversees the day-to-day operations of the Math Success Center.

The testing center has two objectives - to take the timed pressure off of students when they have an exam, and to help faculty members administer tests.

"On a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class, which is typically 50 minutes, it's difficult for a substantial math exam to be in that short of time," Hughes said. "So in those cases, giving the students an hour and a half, for example, would be very useful to them."

Hughes, who monitors the testing center, also administers the university's math placement exams, which he keeps up-to-date.

"Mostly incoming freshman take the exam, but other students take the exam as well," Hughes said. "That gives them a starting point for where they can place in a math program."

The success center launched in the mid 70s and was originally known as the Learning Center. Hughes said the program had a mastery philosophy where students used the center to repeat exams until they achieved a specific level, but that changed about eight years ago.

"Part of the change was due to the fact that intermediate algebra and college algebra were looked at by the state higher education department," Hughes said. "They basically ruled that we couldn't do mastery anymore, because in the mastery system a student was allowed to finish the course in the second semester if they didn't complete it in the first."

He said part of the mandate from the state legislature didn't allow that. Today, students must start and finish a class in a single semester.

Alvarado pointed out that students who generally come to the center for help with lower level algebra classes will continue to come when they take the higher lever classes, because they've gotten used to visiting the center.

"Not everybody comes here just because they have a question," Alvarado said. "Some just feel comfortable. It's a place outside of their dorm, a room away from their roommates, where they can actually work and get things done."

Next semester, Cooke plans to take business calculus before moving on to statistics. He also plans to get extra help at the center.

The Math Success Center is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays. The center is closed on the weekend. For more information visit their website at http://www.math.nmsu.edu/msc/.