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Think Tanks: Academic studios give GCC students a leg up to success

  • Yarphiel Ghani of Greenfield works on statistics homework in Greenfield Community College’s math studio last week. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan

  • Recorder Staff/Tom RelihanGreenfield Community College's math studio gives students a community space to work on homework with their peers, within feet of their professor's office if they get stuck.

  • Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan



Recorder Staff
Sunday, November 20, 2016

GREENFIELD — For Yarphiel Ghani, a prospective nursing student at Greenfield Community College, math has always been hard.

But if the India native of Tibetan descent wants to shift gears in her career from education to health care and bring those skills back home to northern India, where they’re sorely needed, she’s going to need to get through some pre-requisite course work. And that means lots of numbers.

Fortunately, the college’s series of academic studios, the first of which was developed by professors within the math department, are designed to give students just like her a fighting chance through peer learning and easy access to the experts who lead their classes.

That’s where Ghani found herself Thursday afternoon, using instructional videos on one of the studio’s computers to help understand a statistics assignment.

Though the room, outfitted with a series of tables — a row of computers and a small library of math textbooks just down the hall from the math department’s offices — was empty aside from herself that afternoon, Ghani said that’s an anomaly.

“Usually, there’s a lot of people here and there’s always someone to help,” she said. “You come do your homework, and if you can’t get a solution you see who’s in the studio and get help.”

Students can fill out index cards with whatever questions they might have or the topic they’re working on and place them in metal clip holders to act as distress signs to flag down studio staff.

At times, Ghani said the assistance she’s received in the studio has meant the difference between passing or failing an exam.

“I don’t think I’d get through sometimes without it,” she said.

GCC President Bob Pura said the idea for the studio came about 15 years ago, when the math professors decided to repurpose a giant, unused conference room adjacent to their offices.

“They wanted to turn it into a place where students could work together on math and decrease the barriers to getting help,” he said. “They didn’t need an office hours appointment. The professors were right there.”

The idea took off like a rocket. “One Friday, around 5 p.m. I got a call from security, and they said ‘Bob, we have a problem,’” he said.

The issue was that a group of students had set up shop in the studio to study for a test the following Monday and didn’t want to leave the space.

“Those are the kind of problems we want to have,” he laughed.

The concept subsequently spread throughout the campus, and studios popped up first in the business department, then in the science, humanities, social sciences and nursing departments, Pura said.

Besides the academic help, Pura said the goal of the studios is to teach students the importance of being able to work in teams and build a deeper sense of campus-wide community.

“When there’s a strong sense of community, there’s deeper learning and the outcomes are clearer,” Pura said.

Visitors from both private and public universities have toured the studios, and many say they want to bring the model to their own campuses, Pura said.

You can reach Tom Relihan at: 413-772-0261, ext. 264
or trelihan@recorder.com. On Twitter, @RecorderTom