Organic chemistry is a course so notoriously difficult that Dr. Khalilah Reddie offers students an extra seven points on their final score. Of course, there is a catch: to earn the points, students have to attend 30 half-hour tutoring sessions during the semester.
Unlike other science courses, attendance and participation does not factor into a student’s organic chemistry recitation grade. In those courses, Dr. Reddie said, attendance and participation may count as much as 10 percent towards a student’s grade.
“I thought somewhere between [a] five to 10 percent bonus would provide enough incentive for students to participate in the program,” said Dr. Reddie.
The organic chemistry tutoring program offers not just the promise of a boosted grade. Students attending tutoring also deepen their understanding of the material and find that it fosters a space for them to learn. It also makes studying a much less lonely experience by encouraging students to collaborate on practice problems and reach out to peer tutors for an explanation on concepts they do not yet grasp.
The tutors are students that have already taken both organic chemistry courses and are picked by Dr. Reddie herself. They all seem to possess a deep appreciation for the material that they teach, which can be gleaned from their detailed and energetic explanations.
One of the tutors even took time out of their day to paint a picture of a volumetric flask. The painting hangs on the left corner of one of the whiteboards. The flask is bulbous at the bottom and leads into a narrow neck. The artist utilized a purple and white palette for the flask, with the background being streaks of peach emanating from the flask, the centerpiece of the paper.
On a busy day, during the week of an exam, Southwick 320 holds as much as 40 or 50 students frantically studying their structures. There is often just sitting room for them. They will sit on the floor, anywhere they can find a spot.
“One time I was in there for five hours straight the day before an exam, and I literally think I lost my mind a little bit by the time that I left,” said Melanie Conner-Myers, a sophomore chemistry major and organic chemistry tutor. “But it’s good, because a lot of people are just trying to check what they know. Not everyone is completely lost, so they help each other.”
The tutoring set-up encourages students not only to utilize their tutors but also their classmates. Tutees that were spoken to found that tutoring helped them branch out within their majors and make new friends.
“It’s this place where we can all come together after class; for the most part, people are on the same page. We just need a little bit of extra help and understanding. So there’s a sense of camaraderie,” said Jessica Allen, a sophomore chemistry major.
Allen tries to go to tutoring at least three times a week, often after her classes end. She says that through lab and tutoring, she has gotten to know her fellow chemistry majors better and that she has expanded her social circle.
Hansen said that as an organic chemistry student, he initially just went to class and studied on his own with a friend. Upon learning of the bonus points offered by Dr. Reddie, he decided to try tutoring out. While he found the seven points a nice perk of the program, Hansen found that the best aspect of the situation was the tutoring itself.
“We went and realized pretty quickly that yes, the seven points are good, but it’s more important to come here to learn, because it creates an atmosphere of learning. So you learn and then you do better on your tests. The work you do here helps better than the seven points you get,” said Hansen.
More students, she says, go to organic chemistry tutoring because they have that extra push.
“[Tutoring] makes me make sure that I do the work in the green book [of practice problems], and that it also incentivizes studying the material because I get bonus points out of it,” said Dan Rabin, a sophomore chemical engineering major.
Rabin tries to go to tutoring every day but often ends up going four times a week, by his own estimation. He says that he treats tutoring as another class.
“I like it a lot. I feel like the tutoring center has a really calm environment. Nobody really stresses you out, and the tutors know what they’re doing. They’ve experienced the class before, and they’re very willing to help you,” he said.
Rabin finds the organic chemistry program to be a successful one.
“I think it makes people to want to do well, because it gives the ability to increase their grade in their hands, and they’re not forcing you to do work outside of class, but if you do the work you get credit for it, which is really good,” said Rabin.