The 11th Anniversary of SLA

By Beth Garcia
Torch News Editor
2/18/04 - Ferris State TORCH Article

Drew Fournier (left) works with instructor Ted Lindsay

Drew Fournier (left) works with instructor Ted
Lindsay at an SLA class on Thursday in the
Starr building on campus.

Photograph by: Paul Jarema, Photographer

For those whose lives have been touched by the Structured Learning Assistance Program (SLA), a celebration is in order. This winter semester marks the 11th anniversary of Ferris's SLA program and its work in helping students master classroom material.

The celebration may also continue with the hire of the newest SLA Program Coordinator, Christina Hollenbeck.

The program began its work in 1993, under the guidance of Judith Hooper, Terrence Doyle and Barry Mehler.

According to Dean Potter of University College, the current SLA program was the brainchild of these three faculty members.

Doyle, professor of Center for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development gives credit to Hooper, an assistant professor of Developmental Programs, with the basis of SLA.

"Judy Hooper was very frustrated about times she would set up tutoring sessions and students would not show up.  SLA provided a way for tutoring to occur and made it mandatory for students. We were office mates at the time and I helped in getting the program going with her," Doyle said.

Mehler, according to Dean Potter, became the first professor to offer a workshop for his History 121 course.

Since then, SLA has accumulated over 68 sessions of workshops for a large number of Ferris classes, from Fundamentals of Mathematics to Business Law of Contract and Sales. The courses are carefully chosen due to their content and need of mastery, according to Potter.

"Over time, we have learned that SLA works better in some instances than in others. For example, when you look at the SLA workshops a lot of them cover Math and Sciences, quantitative studies where a lot of students have difficulty," Potter said.

Many of the courses which offer SLA require student mastery of material before continuance in individual programs. To those involved in SLA, these courses are considered gateway classes.

"Many of the classes that offer workshops are developmental classes, or gateway classes,? Potter said. ?If you cannot pass them you cannot move on in your program. So you will see some of the technical course in allied health nursing and dental hygiene with workshops."

Every SLA workshop is taught by a facilitator who is knowledgeable in the particular coursework. The decision to hire a facilitator is based on this knowledge and their capacity to rely the appropriate information to both the students in the workshops as well as the instructor of the class.

"We employ upper level students, graduate students and retired teachers from the community who have content mastery," Potter said. "We also look for recommendations from the department or at least approval. We try and show these facilitators how to be effective teachers of the material. This ensures that when the professor does his or her job and a student does not understand, they can hear it a second time from another voice."

The workshops also ensure partial success, according to Potter. With the attendance policy of SLA workshops, students must show slight progress before being excused from class time.

"If students are not performing at a certain level, they must attend. This is part of the deal when they sign up for the class. Most classes they have to be earning at least a C minus if they want to choose not to attend. They may always go after that though," Potter said. However, some courses need more progress than a C minus.

"We have a couple developmental classes, such as Math in particular, where students have to reach a B minus instead of the C. If you are not getting a B minus in Math 010, you cannot expect to do well in Math at the next level," Potter said.

And SLA is all about progress, according to the Christina Hollenbeck. The former College of Technology instructor, began her job as the SLA Program Coordinator Jan. 5, and is looking to continue the success of the program for many more years.

"Over the 10 years of the program more than two thirds of the courses with SLA workshops have shown higher passing rates for students than those without. And of the ones who did not show higher passing rates, the rates were relatively equal," Hollenbeck said.

Hollenbeck feels the future of SLA is promising, and looks forward to working hard to see that it continues its legacy at Ferris.

"Each semester, facilitators of SLA come in contact with approximately 15 percent of the students on campus. That's potential for very positive results," Hollenbeck said. These results are something that Hollenbeck cherishes about her new job.

"I became an educator because I wanted to make a difference. As the coordinator of SLA I have the opportunity to make a great impact," Hollenbeck said. "We here at SLA touch every college at Ferris. We just need to continue what we are doing. However, I do believe in shooting for the stars."