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Washington State University
CAS Connect January 2014

Math Learning Center: Qualitative help for quantitative problems

It’s not often you see math students wearing white lab coats, but that has been one of the keys to success at the new Mathematics Learning Center located in Cleveland Hall.

Housed in the space vacated by the Brain Education Library and referred to most often by its initials, the MLC is the latest tool for student success provided by the Department of Mathematics. The rows of bookshelves have been replaced with rows of tables and simple white signs hung overhead.

Math Learning Center student raises hand, smiling tutor in background“The open space is set up with tables for each of the courses we support,” said Nathan Hamlin, director of the center. “Students can sit anywhere they like, but the idea is that there may be other students from their class at the table whom they can work with if they choose.”

Math Learning Center TutorEvery hour, anywhere from three to eight tutors roam the room, dressed in those distinctive white lab coats, looking to help anyone with a raised hand or a question.

“We tried buttons, but it didn’t seem to be visible enough. People don’t normally wear lab coats outside of a science lab so it makes the tutors readily identifiable,” said Hamlin.

Students began flocking to the center when it opened in August 2012 and attendance has been on the rise ever since. Some instructors require hours in the MLC and simple swipe of the students’ Cougar Card provides an attendance record for both the class and a way to measure the impact of the center.

During the 2013 spring semester, the center logged an average of 435 visits a week. In the fall, student visits more than tripled. The MLC logged a total of 24,162 student visits over the course of the 15-week semester for an average of 1,610 visits per week, or 268 per day.

Institutional commitment

Similar to the nationally ranked WSU Writing Center, the Mathematics Learning Center is a free resource for all WSU students and provides critical support for one of the core learning goals of the institution.

Math Learning Center students and tutor at table

“Developing quantitative reasoning and problem-solving skills isn’t just about meeting a graduation requirement or getting a degree. Our students need a strong mathematical foundation to succeed in today’s evidence-based and data-driven society,” said V.S. Manoranjan, CAS senior associate dean and professor of mathematics. “Good reasoning skills help people make better decisions and understand complex concepts—such as the difference between possibility and probability, or how a predictive model for global climate change or a flu epidemic is created.”

The MLC is open more than 55 hours each week and employs nearly 40 tutors. All of the math teaching assistants for Math 315 (differential equations) and below also hold their office hours at the MLC, an arrangement that is advantageous for students who have scheduling conflicts or could benefit from individualized instruction. Furthermore, students with a mathematics question from any course on campus are welcome at the MLC.

For independent-minded students, MLC resources also include a 32-computer study lab on the lower level of Thompson Hall. A tutor is on hand at this location to assist with questions as well.

Making a difference

Students in the Math Learning CenterAn informal survey of more than 90 students returned overwhelmingly positive feedback about the value of the center, its hours of operation, and the knowledgeable tutors.

“Math is a discipline which requires a great deal of practice and the MLC is a favorable environment where a student can sit down and do that with other people who are working on the same problems,” said Hamlin. “It helps a lot of students get their homework done and they can ask the questions when they have them and not get stuck.”

Math Learning Center sign

Take a look at the Math Learning Center online photo gallery

MLC hours

130 Cleveland Hall
Monday–Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.

1 Thompson Hall
Monday–Thursday 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Sunday 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.