Rinella Learning Center numbers way up in new Shriver Center space

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

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Sophomore Elizabeth Tenon has seen her GPA improve steadily since meeting weekly with academic coach Charlie Chen (photos by Jeff Sabo).

The way graduate student Charlie Chen (Miami ’16) sees it, he’s come full circle with the Bernard B. Rinella, Jr. Learning Center and is now giving back as an academic coach.

Chen of Cincinnati discovered Rinella after being conditionally accepted to Miami University through its Scholastic Enhancement Program (SEP). Those students receive ongoing academic counseling and advising with a full-time professional for at least the first semester at Miami.

He credits that early support with helping him thrive on campus — staying focused on academics and earning a President’s Distinguished Service Award his senior year.

For the past two years, Chen — who is pursuing a master’s in kinesiology and health with a concentration in health promotion — has worked with students accepted through SEP as well as others struggling academically. He enjoys coaching one-on-one and co-teaching a class that introduces first-year students to research.

Elizabeth Tenon, a sophomore majoring in international studies, meets with Chen at Rinella once a week. She learned during one of their sessions that he, too, had changed his major as an undergrad.

“Every time something comes up that he can relate to he says, ‘Oh, that happened to me. This is now I handled it,’ “ said Tenon of Cleveland. “It’s actually really nice that he went here and he understands and can guide me.”

New central campus space draws more students

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Rinella’s space on the third floor of Shriver Center is nearly three times the size of its former location.

Rinella’s new location on the third floor of Shriver Center is nearly three times bigger than its former space in the lower level of the Campus Avenue Building, director Christina Carrubba-Whetstine (Miami PhD ’15) said.

Since moving to central campus in January 2017, the learning center’s numbers have climbed from 799 students in fall 2015 to 1,014 in fall 2017. They’re now at 1,025.

“We’ve done a lot of emphasis on restructuring and refocusing our tutoring center. I think that’s a piece of it,” Carrubba-Whetstine said.

The center employs 100 undergraduate students who serve as tutors and supplemental instruction (SI) leaders as well as 10 graduate students who are academic coaches.

The number of appointments also are up — from 3,697 in fall 2015 to 5,511 in fall 2017. That shows students are returning to the center.

Supplemental instruction helps students in tougher classes

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Christine Carrubba-Whetstine, a first-generation college student who earned her doctorate from Miami, has been Rinella’s director for nearly four years.

The supplemental instruction program is a proactive way of supporting students in difficult classes, Carrubba-Whetstine said.

The program hires former students who did really well in certain courses such as Chem 141, Math 151 (calculus), Physics 191 and Econ 201. The hired students are trained on how to facilitate group learning for the review sessions held twice weekly, usually in the same classrooms where the courses are taught.

Participation in that program has risen significantly — from 710 students in fall 2015 to 1,302 in fall 2016 to 2,081 in fall 2017. International students tend to sign up more for supplemental instruction than individual tutoring, she noted.

Rinella’s services are covered in tuition and fees so students don’t have to pay an additional fee unless they schedule an appointment and don’t show up. A no-show fee would be charged.

Chen said he feels like he’s making a difference with the four students he has been coaching. He learned after winter break that one student earned a 4.0 GPA, another received a 3.5, and two others moved their GPAs above the academic probation line.

Tenon said she started coming to Rinella her freshman year after she didn’t do well her second semester as an engineering major. She was told she could take a class over the summer or meet with a coach once a week. She opted for the coach and was assigned to work with Chen.

Their sessions have motivated her to go to every class, work hard and stay on top of her assignments. Chen scans her planner to make sure she’s jotted her various assignments down. He knows if she had an exam last week or has a paper coming up.

Tenon’s GPA has steadily improved.

“I think this is what I needed, like ‘hey, you’re in trouble and you need to fix this, and I really did,” she said.

She likes her new major, and although her GPA is now high enough that she doesn’t have to continue coming to Rinella, she still does.

 “I actually liked it a lot,” she said. “It just holds you accountable and makes you aware of everything you’re doing and aware of the consequences of it.”

Tenon said she’ll see how she’s doing at the end of this semester before deciding whether she wants to part ways with Rinella to see if, with everything she has learned, she’s ready to do it on her own. She wants that to happen at some point.

“I need to do it for myself,” she said, “and hold myself accountable.”