Pasadena Students Learn From Caltech Tutors

Photo courtesy Caltech Caltech students are tutoring 8th-12th-graders from Pasadena Unified schools in a unique program through the Caltech Y.
Photo courtesy Caltech
Caltech students are tutoring 8th-12th-graders from Pasadena Unified schools in a unique program through the Caltech Y.

For most high school students, math and science are the most difficult subjects there are to tackle. Fortunately, some students in Pasadena and surrounding communities are getting help in passing those classes.
Around 75 students who have a C grade or below in math or science have enrolled in the Rise Tutoring Program through the Caltech Y. The program matches students from grades 8-12 with Caltech students for low-cost tutoring to improve their grades in those classes.
Liz Jackman, assistant director of students with Caltech Y, said the program is very beneficial to high schoolers struggling with math and science.
“They get matched with a Caltech tutor,” she said. “About half (of the tutors) are undergraduate students. About half are graduate students. They come twice a week for two hours each session for a total of four hours of tutoring each week. And it’s a lot of mentoring, as well. They can talk about their college application, SAT, ACT, anything related to math and science.”
Jackman added while the goal is for the high school students to improve their grades, the tutors also stand to gain much from the experience.
“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” she said. “The students improve in their classes. It makes them better candidates for college. And I think it helps the tutors. It helps with their communication skills. It helps them know people outside of Caltech, helps them outside their bubble. I think it’s good for everyone involved.”

Photo courtesy Caltech Students who have a C grade or below in math or science have enrolled in the Rise Tutoring Program through the Caltech Y. The program matches students from grades 8-12 with Caltech students for low-cost tutoring.
Photo courtesy Caltech
Students who have a C grade or below in math or science have enrolled in the Rise Tutoring Program through the Caltech Y. The program matches students from grades 8-12 with Caltech students for low-cost tutoring.

She also said the tutors learn some very basic — but important — skills that help them not just with education, but with life.
“I do evaluations with the tutors,” Jackman said. “The things they have mentioned are patience — that was the highest one. The second highest is communication skills. They learn how to explain things in a different way. If the first explanation didn’t work, how can I explain this in another way?”
Athena Castro, executive director of Caltech Y, said while the high schoolers are admitted to the program because they are struggling, if they stay with it they will gain more than they ever bargained for.
“If you start in 8th grade and go all the way through 12th grade, there’s all that interaction with college students, access to the Caltech campus,” Castro said. “You’re in a college environment. I think that changes your perspective, maybe, on what you aspire to be. These are real scientists who are doing real science work.”
Greg Fletcher, program director of Caltech Y, said the tutoring program gets more popular each year with no shortage of students or tutors.
“Every year, it seems like we have a whole cohort of people who are eager for the service,” he said.
One tutor is Stephanie Hong, a 21-year-old senior from Novi, Mich. A biology major who currently tutors a student in math, Hong said while she enjoys helping younger students, she realizes she is the one who is learning through the process.
“I still love the moment when a student has an ‘aha!’ moment,” said Hong, who has been a tutor for two years. “Every time that happens, it reinforces my desire to help the student improve. Through tutoring, I’ve learned that patience is actually extremely important and that it needs to come from both sides for the session to be successful. If the tutor or student doesn’t allow proper time for the other to explain their thoughts, then it is hard to accomplish anything.”
Another tutor is Armeen Taeb, who was born in Iran and moved to Boulder, Colo. Taeb is studying for his doctorate in electrical engineering and tutors several subjects, including algebra.
He said he likes to see the growth he and his students experience as they engage each other.
“There are two aspects of tutoring that I find very fulfilling,” Taeb said. “For one, I enjoy teaching and explaining concepts to students. It gives me a lot of pleasure when students understand these concepts. Second, I enjoy serving as a mentor. Although my students may follow a different path than me, I believe that I can give some of the perspectives that I’ve obtained over my years of education as an undergraduate and a graduate student.”
Taeb added the tutoring program might even take him down a different path from the one he originally anticipated.
“I’ve learned to be more patient with students and have a few different approaches for explaining a particular concept,” he said. “I think I’ve become a more effective teacher and developed a passion for teaching.”

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