Tutors important to mission at college

October 6, 2013

Tutoring is not just about helping students pass a test or raise a course grade. It’s about empowering them with the skills and confidence to be independent learners.

Tutoring is a proven method of increasing academic success for college students and it is an important student service at Robeson Community College. This week RCC is joining colleges and universities around the nation for National Tutor Appreciation Week.

The Learning Center at Robeson Community College is the hub for tutorial services and academic support where a diverse range of students of different ages, work experiences, and academic goals come for assistance with their academic needs. Tutors wear many hats, sometimes becoming counselors and advisers as well as academic coaches. Some of them hold master’s degrees and some are current students.

“The interaction between a tutor and a student can be a powerful motivator,” said Steven Byrd, lab assistant in the Learning Center. “Knowing that someone is in your corner, rooting for you, is very encouraging for students. It reminds them that success is always possible.”

Karen Silvestri, instructional specialist, and Byrd provide professional development for tutors at the Learning Center. The college’s tutoring program is recognized by the College Reading and Learning Association, along with more than 800 other institutions internationally.

“Tutoring raises a student’s self-esteem,” Silvestri said. “They learn that they can do it.”

The chief academic officer at Robeson Community College is an advocate for tutoring.

“We have invested heavily in tutorial services. We believe it has a strong impact on student success,” said Mark Kinlaw, vice president for Instruction and Support Services. “Tutoring can be from a professional tutor or from a peer. We provide both. Some students respond better to their peers than a professional. It just depends on the student. We believe it is important to provide both options.”

The Learning Center utilizes a variety of tutors, including professional tutors who have earned bachelor’s degrees or higher. The center also employs tutors with associate’s degrees and some peer tutors, which are students who have earned top grades in their course work. Some instructors at the institution volunteer their time to tutor in the center.

Nearly two dozen tutors have worked with about 150 students in the center since the beginning of the fall semester in mid-August on subjects including sociology, history, English, math, biology, chemistry, psychology, computers, art, accounting, religion, Spanish and more.

One of the functions of tutoring is to keep students in school and on track. Tutoring can mean the difference between a student staying in school or dropping out.

Some students visit as a way of improving their skills.

“Tutoring is not about giving our students the answers. It is about giving our students the tools to find the answers for themselves,” Byrd said.

When students learn the skills to do research and think critically, they respond better to classroom instruction, and they tend to do much better on assignments that require them to be creative.

“Students coming to RCC after having worked in the job market, as well as those leaving college to find work, know that it’s competitive out there. Sharpening their skills can give them a competitive advantage, and we hope they’ll come to us for that,” Silvestri said.

For information about the College Reading and Learning Association and National Tutor Appreciation Week, visit: For information about Robeson Community College’s Learning Center, visit:

James Bass is the director of the Learning Center at Robeson Community College.