Machias, Maine — The University of Maine at Machias has received a $200,000 Davis Educational Foundation grant to improve student retention and academic performance by expanding a program called Supplemental Instruction. SI has been offered at the university in STEM subjects since 2015. The new funding allows the university to expand the program to include courses in all disciplines. The grant was received from the Davis Education Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermakerts, Inc.
SI is an academic support model developed by the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1973 and now used around the world. It features voluntary participation in weekly, peer-facilitated learning sessions targeting historically difficult courses for which high rates of D’s, F’s and late course withdrawals are common. Students hired as SI leaders are embedded in courses and lead study groups outside of class after receiving training in facilitation and study skills. Each leader has already taken and done well in the course in which they are embedded, so they are fluent in the content.
“For the SI leaders, this is a meaningful professional development opportunity,” says Medea Steinman, the SI Program Coordinator at UMM. “They build skills in time management, group facilitation, planning, communication and pedagogy. These skills will be valuable in any employment setting. Meanwhile, they strengthen their own content knowledge and study skills the same time.”
“On average, students who attend at least six supplemental instruction sessions in a semester earn anywhere from a half-letter grade to a full letter grade higher than students who do not,” says William Otto, chair of the university’s Environmental and Biological Sciences Division. “The program has increased student success rates from 50 percent to 74 percent.”
For SI leaders, the program is rigorous and demanding, but worth it, say UMM students Theresa Gallanti and Hannah Barnhart. “It takes me between eight and 12 hours each week to be an effective SI leader,” says Gallanti a sophomore majoring in psychology, “but the skills and experience will be critical to me in my career as a school counselor.”
“I like the way that students model leadership to other students in SI,” says Barnhart, a junior studying environmental studies. “Your peers see what you’re doing, and then they want to do it too. I was very shy before I become an SI leader, and the job really helped me thrive outside my comfort zone.”
For students working with SI leaders, the benefits are clear. “Students who study in groups can learn two and a half times more than students who study alone, if the group stays on track,” says Steinman. “That’s why student leaders are key to this process. They receive two full days of training before they start leading study sessions, and ongoing training and support during the semester.”
Professors find the program tremendously helpful, as well. Professor Jeremy Nettleton has had SI leaders embedded in his biology courses for three semesters.
“My students experience a layer of support from another student who already knows the material. It provides a level of comfort, which makes it easier to learn difficult information. Students who might be intimidated by asking a professor for help find it easier to ask a peer,” he says.
“What’s most exciting is the way the program is changing our campus culture,” says Steinman. “Our students now seek out spaces in which they can collaborate on their own. SI creates a social context for learning that students say they find beneficial.”
The grant also allows UMM to pilot an SI model for online courses. Given the increase in online learning, the need for peer-supported learning in that environment is also essential.
“We’re excited and grateful for the Davis Educational Foundation award,” says Steinman. “It will allow us to expand the reach of the SI model to all departments on campus, while providing professional development for SI leaders and achieving our fundamental goal of helping students learn more effectively.”