(This story appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of IMPACT magazine, published annually by the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.)
By Karenna Glover
When the pandemic first started during the spring semester of 2020, Virginia Western Community College’s tutoring center abruptly shifted online. Within a week, all of the peer tutors affiliated with the Academic Link set up new Zoom accounts and quickly learned how to navigate the camera and confirm their audio and screen share worked.
At the time, everyone, including Reference and Instruction Librarian Katelyn Burton, thought the move online was temporary.
“It was a massive amount of change, but the tutors were enthusiastic and eager to learn the new environment, and they didn’t want any downtime in tutoring services,” Burton said.
Not only did the remote tutoring provide assistance for academics at the time, it also gave tutors a lot of work readiness skills, Burton noted. “They gained a ton of new skills by making the adjustment, including empathy, organization and prioritization,” she said. “In many ways it prepared them for the future of work with so many more remote positions.”
As the pandemic stretched into the summer semester and then into the fall of 2020, it became clear that remote tutoring was here to stay. Both tutors and students shared that they preferred to have the option of both online and face-to-face tutoring, and the ability to shift between the two if circumstances, such as quarantine or caring for a loved one, necessitated.
From August 2020 through August 2021, more than 500 students received free Academic Link tutoring fulfilling nearly 3,000 appointments. Most tutors are current students, but some are alumni.
Even though in-person classes returned in the fall of 2021, the tutoring community had expressed satisfaction with the remote option. As a result, the tutoring program is now delivered in a hybrid format, giving students and tutors the option to meet on campus or on the computer.
Students were clear they wanted more options, so they are now able to make their own schedules and can go back and forth between in person and online.
“Students enjoy the flexibility they’ve gained,” Burton said. “Just in the first few weeks of the semester, we’ve seen a massive increase in demand, and I expect we’ll end the year surpassing the number of pre-COVID tutoring sessions.”
Student tutors are paid for their time, and receive a stipend at the end of the semester thanks to an Educational Foundation fund established in 2020. Two former student tutors and generous donors, Dr. Allan Sklar and Ronald Guilliams, established the Virginia Western Student Tutoring Fund to reward the tutors for the impact they have on other students.
“These donors were impressed with seeing students so engaged and wanted to recognize and reward them for the sacrifice that they are making,” said Amanda Mansfield, Philanthropy Director of the Educational Foundation.
Guilliams knows about that sacrifice firsthand. As a Virginia Western student in the 1970s, Guilliams said the tutoring income he earned was a real blessing, allowing him to support himself and help his single mother while in school and the early years of his career. Now as owner of Waterproofing Specialties Inc., a commercial waterproofing and restoration company in North Carolina, Guilliams said his gift to the tutoring program was to honor the role it played in helping him build a successful career.
“Virginia Western really helped me get started,” Guilliams said. “Without that help I would not have gotten to where I got to, so I wanted to give others a chance to get to where they want to get to.”