Penelope Kirby, Ph.D.

During the 2017-2018 academic year I was invited to participate in several statewide meetings that revolved around improving student retention and persistence in STEM. To improve the student retention of underrepresented groups in Calculus 1, I began re-working how I taught the course. I was offered the use of LAs to help in this initiative. The re-design of the Calculus course relies on the use of LAs to make several of the activities reasonable for an instructor to do. There were clear positive results of the re-design of the course and I have continued to use LAs since then.

One outcome was that my passing rate for women was clearly and significantly improved the first year that I re-worked the course. LAs contributed to helping women persist in the course rather than dropping out.

Most of my LAs have been eager to do this job of helping out other undergraduate students and most learned pretty quickly how to do a good job. A few of the LAs started off with the idea that the job was a resume builder or discovered working with other students is a lot harder than they expected, but most of those LAs ended up revising their thoughts about why and how to be an LA by the second semester.

I actually think the LAs get more out of the experience than the students taking the class! The LA experience is a great way to empower the students that are part of the program. It is enjoyable to see the growth of the LAs from a just-finished-calc students to a graduating senior. Each LAs that I have worked with have developed into strong, confident people.