• Sophia Apteker

A Q&A with Emily Knowlton and Dan Degenaro of the LRC

As the October air chills, exam season is only heating up. Luckily, if you’re a UMass Amherst student, you have the support of over a hundred tutors and supplemental instruction (SI) leaders at the Learning Resource Center to assist you along your academic journey.

The Learning Resource Center, or LRC, is located on the 10th floor of the W.E.B. DuBois library. It serves as a home base to Dan Degeraro, a junior pursuing a dual degree in linguistics and physics, who has tutoring drop-ins on this floor. He also finds himself on the library’s 12th floor for tutoring appointments, which is where Emily Knowlton, a junior honors student with a biology major and an art minor, also frequents. She is an SI leader for introductory physics.

Last week, I was able to meet Dan and Emily over Zoom to talk about their experiences as tutors and SI leaders with the LRC. Here’s what they said.

Note: Emily and Dan were both interviewed at separate times. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about what you do at the LRC! How long have you been working there?

Emily: I’ve been with the LRC for two semesters now. Basically, what I do is make worksheets based on what happens in class (Physics 132: Introductory Physics). In my SI sessions, they can work on what they saw in class, build on it, and be even more prepared for their next class. I have two sessions a week. There are consistent people who come into my sessions, and people who just come in when they need help. I usually work with groups of 10-15 students, and it’s a great way for people to just come and go as they please.

Dan: It varies from semester to semester, but usually I work about two or three shifts per week. A shift consists of about three hours where students can either schedule appointments for about an hour at a time, or they can drop in, and those sessions are usually half an hour. In a typical week I’ll see approximately nine people. I started last fall, a little more than a year ago, and I support something like 12 courses. I offered to do elementary German and Russian, but I haven’t gotten anyone for those. I do get a lot of people for intro comp sci courses and calc III (Math 233: Calculus III). I used to get a lot more for linear algebra, but probably towards the end of the semester I’ll get more of those people. That’s what happened last semester.

How do you prepare the material that you teach?

Emily: I made almost all of the worksheets last semester. But what I’d like to do is look back at the slides of the presentation, find a diagram, and figure out how to rework it a bit. I think about how to make it a new problem that still tests the same concept.

Dan: I generally have no idea what specific thing someone is going to ask me when they come in. For the overwhelming majority of the time, somebody comes in and I just know what course it is that they need help with. Then I diagnose what’s troubling them, whether it’s a project or a topic.

What’s the hardest part of what you do?

Emily: Making worksheets is probably the hardest part. You do get a chance to have some creativity, but you’re also testing yourself as well. It takes a lot of work to make them because you’re not just repeating verbatim what happened in class. You’re making problems that students haven’t seen before, and you’re making up the answer key.

Dan: One of the hardest things is when somebody comes in, completely uninterested in what they’re learning, and then trying to inspire just a little bit of interest. I find that the people who learn things most easily are people who are interested in what they’re learning. It’s really just a matter of somebody encouraging them to become interested in it.

On the flip side, what’s the most rewarding part?

Emily: When I see students that have come to my SI sessions in class, I can tell that they’re actively applying what I taught them. They ask lots of questions, they talk in groups, and they say things that I instilled in them. It’s so cool to see how my impact has improved their participation in class. I’ve also gotten some nice emails that have said things like, “You’re the best SI I’ve ever had!”

Dan: The nicest thing is when somebody at the end of the session says, “You explained this so much better than my teacher.” This happens more often than it doesn’t. It’s really exciting to hear that because I’m very strongly considering some kind of education career, like a professor or a high school teacher. I really do believe that anyone can learn anything if someone is willing to be patient with them and just cater to how they learn, because everyone learns differently.

Is there a certain snack or beverage that’s a go-to to get you in the studying zone?

Emily: My roommates always make fun of me for this, but I like black coffee with vanilla oat milk. They think I’m crazy for not adding sugar, but the vanilla oat milk adds flavor. And a snack like Goldfish is always a perfect snack for studying.

Dan: I really like Honest Tea. Maybe they’ll sponsor me. Three days a week I have a really early physics class that I TA for. I go in there, totally half asleep, and when I finish, I have a 40 minute break before my next class. I go into Harvest and get an Honest Tea, black tea if they have it. They haven’t had it for the past couple of days, and so I keep having to get honey green tea.

Okay, and let’s bring it back to the start. If a student wanted help with a course and wanted to get it through the LRC, how would they go about getting it?

Emily: You don’t have to sign up for SI sessions. I usually write my SI times on the board in class, and I also send out little email announcements beforehand that say where and when they are. It’s a relaxed environment and anyone can walk in. (You can check out the SI schedule here.)

Dan: One option is that you can set up an appointment yourself through Navigate. You can also just reach out to the LRC at lrc@umass.edu, and they would be able to help you set something up. You could also just walk into the LRC during the times that are supported for drop-ins.

The LRC is an excellent place to refine your current knowledge on a subject or to see it presented in a new light, one that is more specific to the way that you learn, so that it clicks.

“You should never count yourself out of any field of study,” Dan said. “If you think you’re not a math person, I just don’t think you’ve had a good math teacher. I’m not disparaging all the math teachers, I’m just saying that not every math teacher can necessarily focus all of their attention on each student as well. Also, don’t be afraid of math. Math is good. Why are people afraid of math?”

You can learn more about the LRC’s offerings on their website. If you’re looking for music to study to, you can listen to this “study sessions” playlist (created with recommendations from Emily and Dan) on the UMass Amherst Spotify account.

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