The Science of Help

Author(s): Tim Brouk
Photographs by: Tim Brouk

COSINE in action

Brittni Black (left), an Engineering freshman, gets math help from Sarah Szydlo, a sophomore majoring in actuarial science.

Program offers tutoring in residence halls

It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday. The weekend is almost here. The only problem is the math homework looks like it’s written in an alien language.

COSINE to the rescue.

Initiated in August 2012, the College Of Science Instructional Nightly Enrichment (COSINE) has helped numerous undergraduates with mathematics, chemistry and biological sciences homework. The program runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday in Harrison and McCutcheon residence halls. Three or four College of Science tutors from a variety of majors help at each session.

Students from nearly all residence halls have sought assistance from the tutors, who are mostly sophomores and juniors. The formulas, equations and theories of foundational courses like Fundamentals of Biology (BIOL 110) and Algebra and Trigonometry II (MA 154) are still fresh in the minds of these tutors.

On a Thursday evening, the COSINE tutor team, consists of Mark Krutulis (mathematics and physics major), Sarah Szydlo (actuarial sciences), Melanie Bumbalough (biology with a chemistry minor) and Alice Grasso, an interdisciplinary science student.

“We’ll tutor anything,” says John Fisher, director of recruiting for the College of Science and one of the organizers of the program. “We see a wider variety of student.”

This night, nutrition science freshman Marcela Lacayo has questions about a chemistry pre-lab.

“It’s very helpful because it’s at the end of the day and I’m done with my classes,” says Lacayo, whose pre-lab looked at spectroscopy. “It’s nice because they already know this and have been through this.”

Brittni Black, an engineering freshman, brings in completed math and chemistry homework and goes over the problems she got wrong. This process helps her prepare for exams.

“I’ve done better on the exams,” says Black while taking a short break from converging and diverging series problems with Szydlo. “It helps me out a lot because I actually get help instead of sitting in my dorm being confused.”

And it’s not just those getting tutored who are getting help. Krutulis says going over material that he studied a year or two ago helps with his current studies. His math foundations get reinforced every time he works with COSINE.

“I think it’s healthy for me to review by teaching someone stuff I may not remember perfectly,” Krutulis says. “It comes back pretty easily. I’m always gaining new stuff, but I think it really helps with my understanding of the old.”

Most departments have tutoring sessions, usually run by teaching assistants, but COSINE gives personal attention to the students during prime homework hours. No appointment required.

Math and chemistry are the most common subjects that COSINE encounters. Students in CHM 115 — General Chemistry — have been the most frequent visitors. PreCalculus — MATH 158 — is a distant second. Overall, students from 10 different colleges taking 16 different foundational courses have found assistance. Tutors are selected from the College of Science’s high-achieving Science
Student Ambassador Team.

With Harrison and McCutcheon halls on the far west end of campus, COSINE hopes to expand to more centrally located dorms. Recent students have walked from Windsor, Owen and Shreve halls.

“Since our college is an academic partner for all Purdue students, we teamed with University Residences to create an evening science help center that is easily accessible to beginning students,” says Dennis Minchella, College of Science associate dean and professor of biological sciences. “We hope that the center will continue to grow and serve as a model for help centers in residential units on campus.”