students sit in chairs on the Quad

Innovative Peer Support Program Shows Early Success

Sophomore psychology major Anna Barkey is taking Biology 114 again — not because she failed the class, but because she got an A.

Barkey is one of 23 student leaders embedded throughout 11 sections of two courses — Biological Sciences 114 and Chemistry 104 — this semester to help their peers through tutoring and academic coaching as part of the University’s supplemental instruction program.

“In larger lecture classes, there’s often not a lot of back and forth [between students and instructors] and not a lot to do to supplement that information,” she said. “I see mostly freshmen and sophomores who are just overwhelmed with information, but they don’t understand the resources they have available to them.”

While Barkey is not actually enrolled in the course for credit, she attends every session as if she were and in turn assists individual students in the class.

“I’m in the classroom with them and I take my own notes, I show the student good note-taking styles, show them how to get to know their teacher,” she said. “When they come to a session with me, I can help them make that information bite-sized and more manageable.”

Organized by the Capstone Center for Student Success, the supplemental instruction program aims to increase student success by targeting classes with higher-than-average attrition rates, or drop-fail-withdraw rates, especially courses required for general education or prerequisites for courses in a major.

In addition to embedded peer tutors, the program, which is open to all UA students, includes:

  • Coaching through the CCSS to teach students how to understand and retain information.
  • Collaborating with academic advisors.

We’re seeing an uptick in attendance for supplemental instruction tutoring more than drop-in tutoring and really seeing a correlation between attendance and midterm grades.

“The D-F-W rates we saw showed that student success is high when students attend tutoring, so we know it’s effective, but there’s still a threshold to overcome,” said Jennifer Roth-Burnette, director of the Learning Commons in the Capstone Center for Student Success and also director of the Quality Enhancement Plan.

The supplemental instruction program is the focus of the University’s QEP, which is an integral part of UA’s SACSCOC reaffirmation process. The plan will eventually develop into a five-year project submission to SACSCOC in January 2025 for review and acceptance once the pilot phase is complete.

The team who initially proposed the program includes Roth-Burnette; Lisa Dorr, associate dean for social sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences; Nathan Loewen, associate professor of religious studies and A&S Faculty Technology Liaison; and Summer Rawls, coaching coordinator in the Learning Commons.

Only a few months into the pilot year, initial expectations are already exceeded.

“We’re seeing an uptick in attendance for supplemental instruction tutoring more than drop-in tutoring and really seeing a correlation between attendance and midterm grades,” said Roth-Burnette.

One key to the program’s success is the peer-to-peer structure, especially with peer leaders going above and beyond.

“The student leaders started text chats through Group Me this semester with the students they’re coaching and even holding office hours outside of the classrooms immediately following class so the students can have access to them right after hearing the material,” said Kim Vann, supplemental instruction program manager.

“The student leaders are that committed to being there for the students when they need them. And in the Group Me chats, the students are messaging the leaders and other students and they all help each other.”

Students can become supplemental instruction leaders by having earned an A in the course for which they lead, go through 15 hours of training from the International Center for Supplemental Instruction and then compliance training through the University on Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, laws.

Malik Cooper, a junior from Monroeville majoring in public health, is both a peer coach and a student receiving supplemental instruction in his Biology I course.

“Being a peer coach is one of my favorite ways to give back to the UA community. I am constantly learning and discovering new techniques to assist other students,” he said.

“As a supplemental instruction student, I have gained a plethora of knowledge on how to comprehend complex concepts and process information more effectively. I plan to use these skills to excel in future classes and help fellow students as well.”

The program was initially implemented in the College of Arts and Sciences, but the team is planning to work with the Culverhouse College of Business in spring 2024 and hoping to expand into additional colleges and schools on campus.

“We’ll be rolling into some accounting courses in the spring and adding more math classes,” said Roth-Burnette. “There’s been an increase in demand because some of our faculty know about supplemental instruction from other institutions they may have worked at and they’ve told us they’re excited we’re doing this.”


Jennifer Brady, UA Strategic Communications,