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LSU's Center for Academic Success Provides Innovative Strategies for Learning and Teaching

Inside a classroom sits a room of organic chemistry students listening intently to an instructor expound on hydrocarbons in preparation for the students' upcoming examination. To outsiders, this setting paints the picture of just about any Organic I course around the country, but upon further inspection, there's something unique taking place at LSU.

Supplemental Instruction at LSU
Video - Supplemental Instruction at LSU

This isn't an organic chemistry course but an interactive learning session being led by a fellow student, senior biology major and Supplemental Instruction, or SI, leader Hunter Chapman.

"SI leaders get students involved in the coursework. We don't re-teach the material from class, but reiterate key points from the lecture and work out problems associated with the material," said Chapman. "This strategy helps to hone in on the more important topics of the course."

Supplemental Instruction is just one of the many services being offered by the Center for Academic Success, or CAS, at LSU. As the university's central learning center, the CAS enhances the learning and teaching experience at LSU by empowering individuals with effective, transferable strategies and resources.

"Through services such as learning strategies consultations, tutoring and peer‐led collaborative study groups, students are encouraged to develop critical thinking skills and achieve higher levels of intellectual learning," said the center's Melissa Brocato.

The CAS serves as an academic support unit for all LSU students – undergraduate and graduate – along with faculty, staff, departments and organizations and provides programs and services key to the LSU mission of "challenging undergraduate and graduate students to achieve the highest levels of intellectual and personal development."

"The CAS was named the outstanding learning center in the nation in 2004 because of the success we've had in helping students apply cognitive science principles to improve their learning," said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Learning, Teaching, and Retention Saundra McGuire, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Chemistry.

"We've seen students go from a 1.6 cumulative GPA to a semester GPA of 3.8, just by using the strategies we've taught them."

All students can benefit from utilizing the services available through the CAS, but it is especially important for incoming undergraduate students and new graduate-level students to take advantage of all the resources offered.


Located in Coates Hall, the Center for Academic Success enhances the learning and teaching experience at LSU by empowering individuals with effective, transferable strategies and resources.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

"These students are experiencing an increase in the learning demands placed on them, and many do not have strategies to move their learning to the next level," Brocato said. "When they experience more difficulty after entering college, or graduate school, many of them think they may not be smart enough to succeed. However, the CAS has demonstrated that providing all students with the right mindset, metacognitive learning strategies, knowledge about the necessity of becoming actively engaged in their own learning, and the right academic support resources lead to dramatic improvement in their performance and success."

CAS academic services are broken down into two categories: learning strategies and academic support.

The learning strategies component is by design a service that fosters both intellectual and personal development by promoting self-awareness in students in order for them to utilize appropriate cognitive-science, research-based strategies for achievement. Through presentations to classes and organizations, on campus and online workshops, programs for special populations and individual consultations led by the CAS Learning Strategies Consultants, students drastically improve performance in classes which in essence allows "students to achieve at the highest levels of intellectual and personal development."

The second major component is academic support, which provides tutoring and facilitated study groups through the tutorial centers in 141 Middleton Library and 102 Nicholson, on-line tutoring and the Supplemental Instruction program. Students receive help in historically challenging subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, statics, economics and various other business, foreign language, and STEM-related courses.

Tutors and study group facilitators are College Reading and Learning Association, or CRLA certified – trained to utilize the most up-to-date research-based techniques in order to heavily emphasize critical thinking principles and concepts, allowing students to apply these newly learned skills to all disciplines within the university.

"Many students leave the university because they get discouraged when they fail the first round of tests. Others are simply overwhelmed by the demands of college," McGuire said. "CAS services help students stay in and promote success in college courses reducing the need to repeat or withdraw from courses; therefore, promoting timely graduation."

CAS services aren't limited to those for undergraduate and graduate students. The center also provides a variety of services for faculty and staff for the purpose of promoting faculty who are "excellent teacher-scholars." These resources consist of faculty consultations, workshops, and in-class presentations to help students persist at the university until graduation. The CAS also helps academic support staff promote learning strategies in their meetings with students.


Hunter Chapman (center) will receive the International Award for Supplemental Instruction for his work as a Supplemental Instruction leader at LSU.
Eddy Perez/University Relations

"CAS resources help faculty empower and inspire students to meet their academic and professional goals, and help students become independent, self-directed, lifelong learners," Brocato said. "The CAS has offered workshops for faculty on teaching students effective learning strategies, and has helped them implement the strategies in their classes."

Being Recognized Internationally

In addition to being named the outstanding learning center in the nation in 2004 and other honors, the CAS recently was notified of another prestigious award.

Supplemental Instruction leader Hunter Chapman competed with SI leaders from all over the globe to garner one of the nation's top awards in supplemental instruction. Chapman, besting SI leaders from Australia, Canada, Sweden, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, will receive the International Award for Supplemental Instruction during the 7th International Conference on Supplemental Instruction in San Diego, Calif.

"Hunter's assistance as a supplemental instruction leader made it possible for me to manage nearly 750 students each semester," said Elzbieta Cook, general chemistry instructor. "The resolve to do well by a large portion of these students came from the positive energy and wonderful learning environment that Hunter provided in his SI sessions."

Chapman, a native of Monroe, La., was exposed to the program when he began attending SI sessions in organic chemistry.

"The SI leader for my organic class was so helpful and such a positive influence that I was motivated to pursue becoming an SI leader," said Chapman, who will share some of his effective teaching and learning strategies during a presentation at the International SI conference.

"SI sessions are a tremendous help to students. The students can form study groups and develop effective learning strategies for current and future courses," said Chapman. "The sessions are especially helpful for students needing a little help making the transition from high school to college course work."

Despite the numerous accolades that he has received for his services to the SI program, LSU's top SI leader does not consider this award an individual achievement, but feels that the recognition is a reflection of the quality people working in the University's Center for Academic Success.

"It really has a greater effect on me because of the reward of seeing students learning and accomplishing the goals they have set for themselves," Chapman said. "I'm so proud and privileged to work with these students. But also, SI has opened many doors for me in terms of the people I've met and the opportunities I have had because of the program. And it is the great people I've worked for and with that I will remember most about my experience with SI at LSU."

For more information on the Center for Academic Success, visit http://cas.lsu.edu/.