University of South Carolina

Changing outcomes: SI leaders help peers succeed

By Megan Sexton,, 803-777-1421

Mike Dukes knows chemistry is a difficult subject. He also knows many of the students in his Chemistry 112 class are too shy or intimidated to ask a professor for help.

But Dukes, the undergraduate director for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, knows other students can often be the key to helping their peers succeed in the university’s historically difficult subjects. That’s why he’s a believer in Supplemental Instruction (SI).

SI doesn’t identify high-risk students; it focuses on high-risk classes, those that have the highest rates of D or F grades and withdrawls. SI leaders – undergraduate students who have earned an A in one of those tough courses – agree to retake the course and lead study sessions.

“Most students feel more comfortable talking to another student,” Dukes said. “The SI leaders were in those seats the year before, so they know the fears and the apprehensions. I’ve found the SI staff does a great job recruiting people. I’ve never heard anyone complain about an SI student, and in chemistry, we’re a big user.”

Heather Meraw, a senior in the South Carolina Honors College, excelled in Dukes’ Chemistry 111 and 112 classes during her freshman year. The marine science and chemistry double major has been his SI leader ever since. She holds three hour-long SI sessions a week.

 “I try to make sure students feel comfortable, so they know that it’s not a bad thing to ask me questions,” Meraw said. “In a 250-person lecture, they don’t want to ask. But they can come here and say, ‘He did this in class, and I don’t understand why.’”

SI leaders go through a two-day collaborative learning training session each semester. They are taught ways to tutor students rather than simply repeat the lecture, said Dana Jablonski, the assistant director of peer learning in USC’s Student Success Center.

USC started its SI program in 2006 with 40 SI leaders. This semester, 100 SI leaders are helping in the classes that historically have a 30 percent or higher rate of students receiving a D or F grade or withdrawing from the class. Students who attend SI study sessions have a 10 percent lower DFW rate than other students, Jablonski said.

Victoria Jacks, a freshman Capstone Scholar from Aiken, was sitting in the front row for a recent SI session led by Meraw. She attended SI sessions in her first semester of chemistry and earned an A.

“The SI leader helps us know what’s important and what we need to really know,” Jacks said. “She helps us know what to focus on. She’s able to answer all my questions and help me feel more prepared for tests.”

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Posted: 02/26/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 03/23/13 @ 9:18 AM | Permalink