Peer Tutors Boost Student Writing Skills

Peer Tutors
Peer Tutors Boost Student Writing Skills

Students helping students learn

John Gianoulis, the Writing Center tutor at Dakota County Technical College, is focused on teaching students the significance of demonstrating solid writing skills in their college coursework and their career pursuits after college. Having the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in writing is a must-have on any college student’s list of competencies.

“If you don’t know how to write, people are not going to take you seriously,” John said. “By improving your writing, you gain the confidence to contribute your ideas. You know that you are saying the important things correctly.”

(left to right) Peer tutors Tyler Williams, Jessica Bohmbach and Timothy Bishop with Writing Center tutor John Gianoulis

Soon after taking on his role at DCTC, John realized that the Writing Center could reach more students if he could launch a peer tutoring program. He met with nine instructors to get their feedback and found that all were strongly supportive of the concept. He conferred with Patrick Lair, the college’s director of student success, to learn the best way to create paid work-study positions. He traveled to Saint Paul College for a research visit with Amanda Miklik, who had extensive experience with peer tutoring both as a tutor and coordinator.

“Amanda was a wonderful help,” John said. “She gave me some great resources, which I adapted for DCTC.”

John put all the pieces together and got the peer tutoring program up and running midway through fall semester 2013. The Writing Center has three peer tutors who have so far assisted more than 75 unique students. The tutors also benefit in a number of ways, including earning extra income, improving their own writing and getting to meet students from other academic program areas. The instructors benefit because their students are applying their enhanced writing skills to their coursework.

“Starting the peering tutoring program was an incredible experience,” John said. “It was a really cool moment when I realized that the program was going to happen. That meant a lot. We have the materials we need and the infrastructure is in place for the program to continue. People are thinking differently now. Of course, the Writing Center has peer tutors.”

Peer tutor perspectives

Timothy Bishop

Timothy Bishop
Age: 55
Hometown: Kenosha, Wis.
Residence now: Rosemount, Minn.
Program area: Software Development

Timothy Bishop is twice retired and working on starting a third career. He retired as a captain from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2007, having served nearly 27 years. He was a naval flight officer and served aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kitty Hawk. After the Navy, Timothy worked at Delta Airlines for 23 years, retiring in 2012 as a manager in human resources. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Natural Science from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

Timothy has broad experience with corporate writing and has been involved in delivering training throughout his professional life. He sees parallels between software programming and English as a written language; both require intense attention to detail. When he saw a flyer requesting peer tutors for the Writing Center, he knew he could help. He volunteered his services because at the time he wasn’t eligible for a work-study position.

“Communication skills are essential for career advancement,” Timothy said. “I found that many students are in serious need of our help as Writing Center peer tutors. Technical training does not absolve students from needing to know how to write.”

Jessica Bohmbach

Jessica Bohmbach
Age: 27
Hometown: K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Mich.
Residence now: Red Wing, Minn.
Program area: Multimedia & Web Design

Jessica Bohmbach grew up in a military family, specifically the U.S. Air Force. She pursued English and German studies at Bemidji State University with plans to become a teacher, but discovered she did not enjoy teaching in large-classroom settings. She continued her education at BSU and is currently finishing up her senior project, a series of publishable essays, on her way to earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative and Professional Writing.

Busy raising her son, Dylan, 2, Jessica is on track to graduate from DCTC spring 2015 with her A.A.S. degree in Multimedia & Web Design. Her goal is to write Web content for small businesses while also having the skill set to offer website design services. She was attracted to her role as a peer tutor because she enjoys one-on-one teaching.

“I like how I get to meet students from various programs,” Jessica said. “I wouldn’t have met ninety-five percent of the people I’ve met as a peer tutor. I’ve learned so much about different cultures. What I enjoy most is when someone comes back and tells me they’ve done really well on a paper. That feels nice.”

You can read an article by Jessica Bohmbach in this issue of Real by clicking “Military Veteran Returns Home to DCTC.”

Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams
Age: 21
Hometown: Apple Valley, Minn.
Residence now: Apple Valley, Minn.
Program area: Software Development

Tyler Williams chose IT as a career path because he has always had a mind for programming. He likes the idea of making something complicated appear simple to the end user. Tyler pointed out that the IT industry refers to this design principle as “encapsulation.”

Tyler is looking forward to a career as a software developer after graduating with his A.A.S. degree fall semester 2015. He is currently working in IT as a quality assurance person at Junk Tech in Eagan, Minn. He saw the peer tutoring program as way to help other students while refining his approach to his own writing.

“You need to learn a lot about a subject when you’re teaching it,” said Tyler, who has excelled at writing academically and knew he would be good at tutoring. “I’ve identified weaknesses in my writing and made improvements. Working as a peer tutor fits into my schedule and I tutor on average three to four students a day. Some students gain a lot from the time they spend with us. I also like that we get paid for tutoring.”

Writing Center tutor perspective

John Gianoulis

A resident of St. Paul, John Gianoulis grew up in St. Louis Park, Minn., graduating from St. Louis Park High School in 2005. Four years later, John earned a Bachelor in Arts in Philosophy from Bethel University.

“I am a thoughtful person by nature,” he said, explaining his passion for philosophy. “These types of questions just interest me.”

John reported that writing was not something that came to him naturally. “As a freshman at Bethel, I found writing to be an agonizing task,” he recalled. “I would read each sentence in a paper over and over thirty to forty times. After one bad paper experience, I realized I did not know the rules of writing. I bought a book on basic grammar from Goodwill and took copious notes on every single page.”

From that point on, John had a much easier time with the writing process. Eventually, one of his toughest professors at Bethel returned one of his papers, noting that his writing exhibited a “critical mastery of style.” That hard-won praise from a key professor was one of the proudest moments of John’s academic career.

After Bethel, John served with AmeriCorps on a program called College Possible, helping low-income students in Coon Rapids earn admission to college. He also worked at Anoka-Ramsey Community College as a supplemental instructor as well as an English and math tutor. A big fan of math, he finds that mathematical formulas are as open to creativity as grammar.

John started as the Writing Center tutor at DCTC fall semester 2012. His teaching philosophy is straightforward: “Speak from the heart and focus on the fundamentals. Students respond when you’re passionate about your work.” He loves that his job connects him with an incredible variety of students. “I learn something new every day on all kinds of subjects—from the ingredients in dental fillings to the treatment of women in Somalia,” he said. “I’ve also learned American Sign Language from tutoring deaf students.” In fact, he’s gotten so good at signing that he can carry on a regular conversation using ASL.

In his free time, John plays acoustic guitar. He just completed his first album, Sung into Me, which features nine songs. You can listen to John’s album by clicking the following link: Sung into Me. John loves soccer and plays forward in a men’s soccer league. He is also involved in Toastmasters International, a public speaking club.

John emphasizes the importance of developmental courses for students who have limited experience with college-level writing. For students determined to continue increasing their writing proficiency, he recommends taking full advantage of every tutoring opportunity. “It’s not painful,” he said. “The Writing Center is a very supportive environment. By improving your writing, you will build confidence in all your college work.”

For more information about the Writing Center at DCTC, contact:
  • John Gianoulis
    Writing Center Tutor
    Appointment Phone: 651-423-8420
    Writing Center Location: Room 2–103