Bataan Hall

Passing it on

By Bill Knief

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UNM-Taos classes for spring semester start in five days—January 20—and enrollment ends shortly thereafter. For those who are wondering whether they can get enough support to make their educational journey a productive one, here are a few of the ways UNM-Taos works to ensure student success.

Kathleen Knoth, UNM-Taos Librarian, is offering Arts and Sciences 198, an undergraduate course designed to make college easier by helping the student learn the many skills that are necessary for success. These include time management, listening, note taking, textbook reading, test taking and test anxiety, building a better vocabulary, writing papers, and improving research skills in the computer lab. The course also covers communication styles and career exploration, and is the transferable credit equivalent of a four year university orientation class.

Kathy Spess, Manager of the Student Success and CASA (Center for Academic Success and Achievement) Tutoring Programs, knows that every new student has a certain amount of anxiety about measuring up to college level performance.

“Everyone’s nervous. Not one person has been to college that wasn’t nervous the first semester. Students come in to take the Compass test in order to be placed in the appropriate math or English course, and what I often hear them say is, ‘Oh, no, I did horribly’,” she chuckled. “And I say no, you did just fine. You’re building your foundation. We do testing in English and math so that a student doesn’t get into a class that is too easy or too hard. That helps ensure that they will be successful in reaching their goals.

“And they look at me and I know they’re wondering whether to believe me or not. But the work-study students that do the tutoring here are just incredible. Topnotch. They train, we have monthly workshops and they are observed before they tutor. We are part of the international CRLA (College Reading and Learning Association) so there is a stringent set of rules to follow.

“But they must also be articulate and understanding. A lot of our tutors are students who have formerly been tutored themselves, so they can identify with the situation. It’s a joy to watch students helping students. I am honored to work with this group of very talented students.”

“Remedial,” with its negative connotation, is a word you won’t hear at CASA or anywhere else at UNM-Taos. Because college preparedness is a challenge for so many Americans, Introductory Studies has replaced it as a standard component in the curriculum, and IS classes are covered by financial aid.

“Not just in Taos, but across the whole country the lack of college preparedness is epidemic. We’re here to help, not just drop you into the deep end and let you drown,” Spess added.

“Oh, and by the way—we’re free. All you have to do is call and make an appointment. We’re a good deal.”

758-5904 is the number. Ask for CASA.

Adela Rivera is one of those very talented work-study students at CASA. She tutors in math, statistics, chemistry and computer technology when she’s not being a mom or finishing up her Associate’s Degree in Business Administration. She told me that if she can maintain her grade point average (a 4.0) this semester, she could qualify for a scholarship for obtaining a bachelor’s degree at Anderson School of Business.

“Being a tutor is a great way to give back,” she said. “And they say the only way to really learn something is to teach it, so a lot of my skills are reinforced by working here.

“Students walk in and they have such bad anxiety. They’re not understanding. They fell behind. They feel awkward, overwhelmed. The first thing I tell them is, take deep breaths. Then we sit down and get to the root of it. You let them vent. We work on their skills but we also work on their confidence. Understanding builds confidence, so part of our job is to find where their strengths are. People come in and they are beating themselves up, so we need to encourage them in a genuine way.”

Paula Martinez is the CASA receptionist. She handles the phone, greets people, schedules appointments, assists in Compass testing, does filing and generally creates order out of chaos.

“In the community there are a lot of people who feel very self conscious and have low self esteem, whether they are a young person right out of high school or a middle aged woman or an elderly man,” she said, “and they’re intimidated by education. They feel awkward and like they don’t belong.

“What we like to do is make people feel comfortable, and actually encourage these individuals to believe in themselves, and feel good about the learning process, because knowledge is power, and no one can take that away from us.

“I remember a middle aged woman who called and said she hadn’t been in school for 20 years and she was really afraid of coming back to school. Her 16 year old was about to graduate and she said I think I should go back to school, but I’m not good at math. I said it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where you start. It matters that you reach your goals.

“I came back after 15 years and obtained my Associate’s Degree in General Studies in Applied Science, and my Holistic Healing certificate. I was once that woman with low self esteem and being fearful of learning. Now that I’m here it’s a whole different world, and I’m embracing it, absorbing everything like a sponge.

“I just love to pass on what I’ve learned and experienced to others, because that’s what life’s about—passing it on.”

About The Bill Knief

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