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Math tutoring program Vertex helps students angle for success

Six-week peer tutoring program offers incoming students modules, mentorship, community

It had been 11 years since Noah Hoffman ’22 had taken a math class when he arrived on campus this fall. A Resumed Undergraduate Education student and former Olympic cross-country skier, Hoffman participated in the Vertex program, an online peer math tutoring program for incoming students that the University piloted this summer. For Hoffman, Vertex was the perfect refresher.“It was like this was built for me,” he said.

Spanning six weeks from June through August, the initiative aims to “better prepare incoming first-year students (for) the academic rigor and culture at Brown,” according to the Vertex website.

Born out of a collaboration with Yale, Vertex is modeled after Yale’s Online Experiences for Yale Scholars program.

Twenty-two students started off as Vertex mentees, said Janet Peters, assistant director of academic tutoring. These students were “incoming first-year, transfer and RUE students (who are) STEM-intending, BEO, pre-med students who were likely to take math or (a) math sequence.” The University invited incoming students to apply to the program and paired them with student tutors.

The program’s participants took a pre-test and post-test using a program called Aleks, said Kevin Chen ’19, a Vertex mentor. Students also used the same platform to do practice questions, and Chen said that student feedback on the platform was positive.“The perception was that Aleks was a great way of getting practice in,” he said.

Chen said that students also praised the Yale-produced instructional videos, which he described as “clean, simple (and) well-explained.”

There are ten Vertex mentors, all of whom are academic tutors during the school year, according to the Vertex website. The mentors participate in video conferences with the mentees using the platform Zoom, according to Chen.

The online nature of Vertex was key, as it “allowed students a little bit more flexibility (because) they didn’t need to come to campus,” Peters said. “They can still work or be at home with their family and still participate in the program.”

Vertex aims not only to bolster incoming students’ math abilities but also to help them “form connections with many members of the Brown community … prior to their arrival,” Peters said. “The hope this year is that it just eases their transition to college.”

Face-to-face interactions between mentors and mentees were integral to the program, Chen said. As a program participant, “you could actually see the faces of the people behind the program, you get to talk to actual Brown students (and) you get to learn more about Brown, not just learn about math.”

Vertex influenced Hoffman’s transition to the University. The program “made a huge difference in my first couple weeks here at Brown because I felt so much more comfortable in math and had people that I was already connected with,” he said.

Chen said that he often gave his mentees advice about coming to Brown, life on campus, picking classes and choosing professors.

“It was also really special being part of someone’s first experience with Brown and being able to welcome them and explain things about the school,” said Vertex mentor Alanna Wolf ’20, who met up with one of her mentees in-person during orientation.

Vertex is set to run again next summer as of right now, Peters said. For the next session, she hopes to increase the program’s capacity, and “see more cross-collaboration between groups” and within the entire cohort.

Hoffman said that as the program grows, he hopes the groups remain small. “The really small class size of three was a huge benefit,” he said. “If they can (keep the class sizes this small), that would be ideal, because that was why it was so effective for me.”

In some ways, it is like Vertex never ended for Hoffman. Along with two other students in his Vertex group, Hoffman formed his own tutoring group, which is led by the same upperclassmen who worked with them over the summer. “We’re basically continuing Vertex this semester as we get into Math 90,” he said. “We loved this so much that we’re keeping it going.”


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