It is 1:15 on a Thursday afternoon. A group of organic chemistry students fill seats in University Hall 208 and wait for class to start. However, no professor will show up and no class will be taught.
Instead, another student will lead a supplemental instruction review session.
These students give up their free time to attend non-mandatory, student-led review sessions every Tuesday and Thursday, due to significant improvements they have caused in tough natural science and mathematics classes.
This has brought honors to Mark Filowitz, associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Martin Bonsangue, a professor of mathematics. They are being recognized by the International Center for Supplemental Instruction and University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The awards will be presented to Filowitz and Bonsangue on May 24 at the International Conference on Supplemental Instruction (SI) in Chicago. Filowitz will be presented with the Outstanding SI Support by a Campus Administrator award, and Bonsangue, along with his SI team, will receive the Outstanding SI Research and/or Publication award.
“What we found is that we improve the passing rates dramatically in these classes and we also increase the GPAs dramatically in these classes for students who participate,” Filowitz said.
Some of the most noted developments have come from underrepresented minority students.
In two of STEM’s traditionally toughest courses, students who regularly attended SI showed a 0.75-point improvement in their GPAs compared to those who did not attend.
Passing rates also increased 33 percent for students who attend SI sessions. Underrepresented minority students showed an even greater increase, showing an 83 percent improvement among students who use SI.
The success of CSUF’s SI program has caught the eye of the California State University chancellor’s office, which has now allocated money into CSUF’s budget for the program. It previously relied on grants to operate.
Now supported by a steady source of funding, Filowitz plans to expand the program to other departments and reach more students.
The SI program at CSUF was introduced in 2007, with the intention to improve the passing rate and grades in traditionally tough biology and math courses.
“It’s not tutoring. It’s not something that targets students that are having problems,” Filowitz said. “It targets courses that students are having a problem with.”
Each review session is taught by a student who had previously taken the class and done well in it.
The other criterion for becoming a SI leader is personality.
One of the program’s main goals is for its peer leaders to be outgoing and approachable. That way, students are more inclined to participate and ask questions.
Student and SI leader Peter Nguyen said having an all-student environment is one of the key factors that makes students in SI sessions more comfortable asking questions.
“SI is the perfect place to make mistakes, because if you make them in SI you probably won’t make them later on the exam,” Nguyen said. “In class most students are afraid to approach professors. While us SI leaders, they approach pretty easily because we’re their peers.”