New QSR center director brings university experience to college setting

By Jessica Tang ’16

After Hamilton’s faculty noticed that students were lacking quantitative skills in 1979, IBM awarded a grant to the College for its students to become more quantitatively literate. In 1984, the Quantitative Literacy Committee was formed, which went on to design a quantitative skills exam that was to be administered to all entering students.

With this increasing emphasis on quantitative literacy came the establishment of the Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning Center in 1990, as well as the induction of a Quantitative Literacy Requirement by faculty in 1996. Except for a few small changes, this same requirement is still in effect today.

The QSR Center, which was completely revamped last year, also remains an indispensable resource for Hamilton students. It provides drop-in tutoring services for students. The selection process for QSR peer tutors begins in the spring, and many applicants are students the faculty has recommended.

In addition to the influx of first-years seeking assistance for the Quantitative/Symbolic Reasoning course(s) they are taking, the Center has received another newcomer, Director Benjamin Smith, who has an extensive tutoring background.

Before working at Hamilton, Smith owned and operated a private tutoring business in the Seattle area. After the recession hit in 2008, he relocated to upstate New York, where he was the Assistant Director for Learning Assistance at Binghamton University. There, he oversaw three tutoring centers and a campus-wide training program for tutors.

After five years at Binghamton, Smith felt that it was time to move into a director role. Director of the QSR Center at Hamilton, Smith said, struck him as the perfect balance between his professional interest in tutoring and his academic background in mathematics.

But being a QSR Center Director requires Smith to take on many other roles as well. Apart from tutoring, Smith hires tutors, manages them, markets the Center and takes care of payroll and budgeting.  He also reaches out to many of Hamilton’s academic departments “to ensure that the QSR Center is in line with the needs of the faculty.”

Smith also manages the Peer Tutoring Program (PTP) which provides students with a one on one tutor in the desired field.

For the QSR, Smith notes that these academic departments are not just related to the field of math.

“A big piece people don’t realize is that QSR stands for Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.  Symbolic Reasoning refers to any subject that uses a formal language to describe the disciplinary content.” According to Smith, currently supported subjects also including: physics, chemistry, economics, biology, music theory, statistics (in all the fields it is offered for), psychology and logic.

Even with the large number of subjects that the QSR Center supports, Smith says that he is “looking to expand these offerings in the future.”

Regarding changes to the QSR Center, returning students may not have as novel of an experience as they had when they first stepped into the remodeled Center last year. However, the slight change in hours will certainly come as a pleasant surprise.

“The biggest change students will notice right away is that we are now open from noon to 9 p.m Monday through Thursday, without closing from 6 to 7 p.m.” The Center had closed from 6 to 7 p.m. in the past, a restriction that had come as an inconvenience to some students. On Fridays, the Center opens from noon to 4 p.m., and on Sundays, from 4 to 9 p.m.

The added hour in the QSR Center’s schedule has also caused a change in times when the Center is the busiest.

“Traditionally, 2 to 4pm has been a popular time slot, but so far this semester, we are seeing solid attendance across the board,” said the Director.

As for the most popular program, Smith mentioned the Peer Tutoring Program, as it does support all academic disciplines, not just the QSR disciplines. Even with its breadth, however, Smith says that the Peer Tutoring Program seems to be a popular choice for those studying foreign languages.

According to the QSR Center’s website, the Center’s mission is to “support students in the development of their academic skills, and to foster collaborative learning and intellectual growth.” Smith’s perspective reinforces this mission, explaining that the goal of QSR Center and the Peer Tutoring Program is “to help students not only perform better in their courses through improving their understanding on specific content, but to help students become better learners.”

These students sometimes include the tutors themselves. In these instances, Smith becomes the instructor.

“My job now as an administrator is tutoring tutors on how to be tutors. One of the best ways to explain a concept to a student is to demonstrate it through model behavior.  So while my career began as a peer tutor [in undergraduate school], and I do still enjoy helping out the QSR tutors when they get slammed with students or stumped by a particularly difficult question, I view those instances as teaching moments not only for the student I am helping, but also [for] my staff.”

When asked about what he looks forward to as QSR Director at Hamilton, Smith’s response reflected a characteristic of Hamilton that has attracted many students to the College.

“I think the piece I looked forward to the most was the smaller numbers at Hamilton and the potential to get to know everyone who utilized the tutoring I oversaw.  Binghamton was nearly ten times as big as Hamilton, so I was excited by the prospect of being part of a truly tight-knit academic community.”

Take the interest in tutoring, experience in mathematics, and enthusiasm for a small community, and Smith notes, “So far, I have to say it really is a dream position!”

Finally, Smith wishes to raise student awareness about the QSR Center: “We are expanding our web presence! Our up-to-date schedule can be viewed online at www.hamilton.edu/qsr/schedule as well as on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HamiltonQSR. We hope to see you soon!”


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