Beyond the Classroom: USJ’s Center for Academic Excellence

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The Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) is a staple on the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) campus. Throughout the 2018-2019 academic year, the CAE staff and its peer tutors moved beyond the Center’s walls: first, by enlisting the USJ community to help reunite a military service dog with his veteran handler, and then by presenting at a conference on improving the field of collegiate tutoring centers at the Northeast Regional Supplemental Instruction Conference (NERSI).

In February, the CAE held its annual My Furry Valentine Donation Drive, where they collected material goods for local, no-kill animal shelters, including the Simon Foundation Inc. and Dog Star Rescue. CAE volunteers also raised money to support Mission K9 Rescue, an organization that sponsors the return of military service dogs and reunites them with their veteran handlers. In only one week, the USJ community raised a total of $326 by selling food, fleece blankets, scarves, and valentine treat bags – all made by CAE staff and tutors. That money was supplemented by the LJT Family Foundation, allowing for the successful reunion of a life-saving dog with his beloved handler.

“The CAE tutors and I have been holding this drive for the last three years, and each year the monetary donations have gone to a different organization,” said the fundraiser’s coordinator, Diane Zelazny, RN, Health and Natural Science Support Services Administrator. “The students were so energized by videos showing the positive impact these reunions have on the mental health status of these veteran handlers that the decision was made to support one Mission K9 rescue dog each year.”

The following month, the CAE offered important insight into USJ’s support services at the NERSI Conference. On March 22, 2019, the CAE partnered with faculty from the Chemistry department to present, “Faculty Buy-In Pays Off for Student Success,” which discussed the ongoing collaboration between the two departments to provide comprehensive support for first-year students enlisted in the University’s Chemistry 170 course. Through this partnership, the course professor created a Workshop Manual that corresponds to both the course syllabus and weekly structured workshops, which are facilitated by experienced content tutors who regularly meet with the course professor.

Presenters included the Chemistry department’s Chair Ellen Anderson, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Jesse Crandall, Ph.D., as well as the CAE’s own Diane Zelazny, RN; Professional Content Tutor Tessa Tuttle, RN; and Undergraduate Content Tutor Symantha Fazzino. Together, they not only facilitated a discussion of the developmental process of the Workshop Manual and its positive results, but also showed attendees how to identify strategies for developing collaborative programs between faculty and support staff and how to assess the impact of those programs on retention.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the CAE staff and student tutors to create Workshops and enhance the study table and tutoring services for CHEM 170,” said Dr. Crandall. “The energy and enthusiasm that the tutors have is noticed by the students and makes my job as the professor much more rewarding. The collaboration with the CAE staff has been one of the highlights of my time thus far at USJ. I can be better in the classroom because of the support that my students get from the CAE, and I look forward to continuing the collaboration.”

To learn more about the services offered by the CAE and the Academic & Career Services Center, click here.