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Trinity Expands Academic Support Resources

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Luke Tunstall and a student meet in QRS Center

University introduces new Quantitative Reasoning and Skills Center and improved advising resources

by Danyal Tahseen '19

It’s no secret that a little calculus can still be scary for the best of us. Acting upon exhaustive research and feedback, Trinity recently introduced the Quantitative Reasoning and Skills (QRS) Center, along with a revised system of academic support and advising, under the leads of Luke Tunstall, Ph.D., and Lapétra Bowman, Ph.D. The moves are part of Trinity’s Starting Strong Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which aims to improve first-year student success over the next five years.

"Lapétra Bowman and Luke Tunstall bring years of experience and the very best in student-centered training to our campus,” says Michael Soto, associate vice president for Academic Affairs. “For 150 years, students have started strong at Trinity because of the truly gifted faculty and staff. The Starting Strong QEP continues this tradition with Lapétra and Luke, who have already made us better by calling Trinity their intellectual and professional home."

The new QRS Center seeks to improve student performance in early quantitatively-demanding classes. These classes are often observed to be difficult adjustments for first-year students, who are transitioning to college course loads for the first time and may not yet feel comfortable with the quantitative skills expected of them. The QRS Center will supplement peer tutoring offered by the mathematics department. QRS Center tutors will be equipped with a diverse set of strengths and attention to the varying skill levels of first-year students in quantitatively oriented classes. Giving considerate attention to students as individuals, the QRS Center hopes to normalize tutoring and address the stigma against seeking help that may inhibit students from maximizing their potential. To extend its impact on campus, the QRS Center is planning on multiple workshops that address topics ranging from building specific skills such as using programming packages and visualizing data, to more overarching issues in STEM such as imposter syndrome.

Luke Tunstall has stepped into the role of QRS director with an extensive background in studying and teaching mathematical reasoning. He recently received his doctorate in mathematics education from Michigan State University, where he taught quantitative literacy courses, and he has authored multiple books and journal articles on bringing abstract mathematical concepts to the classroom. As a result of these experiences, he is empathetic to students who struggle in mathematics and believes in emphasizing applications to help students appreciate the significance of seemingly mundane concepts and formulae.

Tunstall’s considerate approach and meticulous attention has already received rave reviews from students. “Luke has been working with me on psychological statistics,” says Molly Rosenblatt ’20, a communication major and transfer student. “When I wasn’t able to reach a satisfactory grade on my first exam, it was recommended that I meet with Luke. He is always walking around with a smile on his face and remembers every exam that I have...even the ones not in my statistics class.”

While many universities have some version of a center dedicated to providing tutoring for mathematics courses, Trinity’s QRS Center is particularly unique in its approach of viewing quantitative reasoning as a practice that spans across disciplines, as opposed to a short-term crutch needed to power through any single course.

“Over time, Trinity will normalize the notion that quantitative reasoning matters in more than just math courses,” Tunstall says.

two students studying in qrs center

The efforts of the QRS Center work in conjunction with additional changes in academic support and first-year advising as part of the overall QEP. Strong advising is crucial to helping incoming students learn how to plan their coursework at the university level, make informed decisions about fulfilling their Pathways curriculum requirements, and curate a college experience that helps them meet their professional and personal goals.

Many improvements in first-year advising have been made by Lapétra Bowman, the new advising coordinator in the Academic Affairs office. Bowman has a doctorate in English (with a focus in comparative literature by women) and has worked as an academic adviser for 17 years while teaching undergraduate courses in English, humanities, and women’s studies for more than a decade. Her experiences as a retention specialist and program coordinator make her a perfect fit to enact the QEP initiative.

“I love students,” Bowman says. “I’ve been committed to student service since I was 17 years old. Advising is the very tool that helps students excel. It provides stability, consistency, and clarity. I always ask students when they’re pursuing something how it fits into how they wish to serve the world. I believe students cannot fully realize their potential if they do not have a successful and compelling advising experience.”

Bowman also looks at advising from the faculty angle. She provides professional development, advising tools, degree plans, and workshops so faculty can give students consistent messaging  regarding requirements for their major and the Pathways curriculum. Bowman then bridges the two sides, working with students one-on-one for holistic advising sessions that encourage them to take advantage of their strengths while challenging them to stretch their horizons by taking classes they never would otherwise.

This attention is exactly what Rosenblatt loves about working with Bowman: “Dr. Bowman took time over winter break to sit down with another transfer student and me to address our multitude of worries that were piling up about graduating and the overall transfer program in general. Dr. Bowman spent over an hour talking to each of us and using our feedback to actually help to improve the system. Dr. Bowman never stops smiling and is always there to give you a hug as well as honest advice—even when it isn't what you want to hear. She is constantly checking in on me to make sure that I am okay and that I have all the support that I would need to graduate.”

Rosenblatt adds, “The support created by so many people at Trinity like Luke and Dr. Bowman is why I am so grateful it will be my alma mater.”

Danyal Tahseen is a senior biology major with a communication minor. He immigrated to the United States in 2014 and was drawn to Trinity for its strong research and faculty mentorship opportunities. He is now preparing to attend medical school in Houston in the fall.