A New Layer Of Support

Learning Commons Manager Kirsten Daykin never gets tired meeting with students at Western.

“Hearing about their dreams and goals is my favorite part of this work,” said Daykin. “It’s just so fulfilling.”

Daykin leads Western’s Personalized Applied Learning Strategies (PALS) efforts at the college. Developed within the past year, PALS is a strengths-based academic support option for students and a major strategy for keeping and retaining students.

The program is designed for students looking for 1:1 academic support. These students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including first generation college students, students with concerns about a specific course, or adult learners returning to college. These students are often referred to the program through admission coaches, advisors, instructors, counselors, and administrators.

Once a student is referred, Daykin meets individually with each student to discuss their goals, strengths, and learning concerns.

“Together, we create an academic plan that integrates the strengthening of foundational skills, like time management, organization, reading comprehension, technology literacy, math literacy, and study methods, with the work they must complete for their current courses,” said Daykin.

In just under a year, the program has served 446 students and counting.

“The original plan was to pilot PALS with a relatively small group of students,” said Daykin. “However, in response to the growing demand for personalized support in this new world of online learning, we worked to create a faster, more widespread launch.”

Students in the program say it is helping them stay in school – even when times get tough.

“I wanted to drop out until I got in contact (with PALS),” said one student. “Once I was in the program, I felt a lot better and could remain in school.”

The numbers don’t lie. In a recent survey sent to students in the program, 86 percent responded saying that PALS helped improve their grades. Nearly 96 percent would recommend the program to others, and 88 percent said their level of confidence had grown since being in the program.

Julia Callaghan, one of several team members working on PALS, said launching the program during COVID has been so important for students.

“Even though they’re enrolled in classes, I think many of our students are feeling disconnected from the college experience given our current online format,” said Callaghan.  “Meeting regularly with a PALS instructor not only helps with academics, it also helps students feel like they’re not on an island going through this alone.”

Callaghan says the most important aspect of PALS is improving a student’s confidence, even in difficult subject areas.

“Recently, one of my PALS students studied for months to prepare for a test retake in order to pass her math class,” said Callaghan. “She ended up improving her test score from 25 to 83 percent. Afterwards, she told me ‘I feel like if I can pass a college math class, what else can I do? The sky’s the limit!’” As COVID conditions improve, Western’s Learning Commons plans to offer more face-to-face support in the coming months. To learn more about Western’s Learning Commons, visit www.westerntc.edu/learning-commons.