Director of Academic Support Laura Vachet shares the educational philosophy behind Williston’s new Center for Academic Success
Last fall, Williston unveiled the new Center for Academic Success (CAS), a 3,500-square-foot space designed to support every type of learner on campus. Housed in Clapp Library, the CAS offers peer-to-peer tutoring, guided study halls, structured study-skills classes, drop-in writing, math, and science support, and more. At the helm is Director of Academic Support Laura Vachet, who has worked in education as a learning specialist, Academic Support Director, and Spanish teacher for 24 years.
What is the CAS’s approach to learning?
The CAS supports all our students since, let’s face it, everybody needs a little help now and then. Our goal is to help students learn strategies tailored to the areas where they struggle—strategies they can always have in their back pockets. This builds confidence so they are prepared to face future challenges. With instruction and support, students with all levels of learning differences can meet high academic expectations and have access to the same opportunities as students without learning differences.
What is the Academic Strategies Tutorial?
It is an intensive study skills course focused on executive functioning and specific learning techniques. So, for example, if students are struggling with time management, we can help them make adjustments to daily schedules so they can manage assignments and deadlines. We also look at academic strategies, like approaching a multiple-choice test or prioritizing homework. Or we might look at how to help a student who has a lot of homework, but is paralyzed about where to begin. Our goal is to build skills that serve students rather than perpetuate unhelpful habits. We then apply those skills to current work and monitor their progress across all classes.
What is the Laboratory for Academic Success?
LAS is a program that provides guidance during evening study hours. While many students are in their dorm rooms working, LAS participants attend a guided study hall that is proctored by faculty. Students also have access to subject specific tutors, which means they can work on their assignments and get help instantly if they are stuck on a math problem or are having trouble with a project. They also have the ability, like every student, to visit the writing, science, or math resource centers which are all in the same building as the LAS. It helps students work more efficiently.
Why is it important for students to learn to ask for help?
Students can have the misconception that their accommodations are a burden to teachers. They don’t always want to initiate the conversation and say, “I need extended time,” or “can I come for extra help?” But then they’re not learning to advocate for themselves, which is an important skill in college and in life. It’s similar to walking into a building on crutches and saying, “I’m not going to ask where the elevator is. I’m going to crawl to the top of the steps.” Students might have the ability to get to the top floor; but the struggle is much harder and exhausts them. Taking the elevator allows them to spend their energy on more important things.
What is your philosophy of learning?
Struggles with learning should never keep students from pursuing their dreams. Students should have enough strategies, skills, and routines that they can make good choices about the courses they want to take. They should know their strengths and weaknesses; recognize when they need to sign up for a study hall or go to the writing center; or feel confident asking for extended time, if that’s part of their plan. I want them to know themselves well enough so they can go off to college and be independent and disciplined learners. That is success to me. It almost chokes me up to talk about it.