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Alumna: Supplemental instruction is an incredible benefit
to students

05/27/15

This fall, recent graduate Mikaelle Olivier ’15 will head to Connecticut to teach high school science through Teach for America. She will arrive on the job with some good experience: she served as a supplemental instruction leader in organic chemistry during her senior year.

MCLA’s instruction leaders provide an incredible benefit to their fellow students, Olivier said 

In addition to having taken the course already, “Supplemental instructors sit in the class with the students, so they have a complete understanding of what material was covered, and where the students are struggling,” she explained.

Olivier most recently was a supplemental instruction leader in organic chemistry.

“It's much easier to ask a peer your question in a smaller, more relaxed setting than the lecture hall that the class is held in,” Olivier explained. “I built a strong relationship with the students I worked with, especially since organic chemistry is a year-long course, and my sessions felt more like friends helping friends than a tutee and a tutor.”

Students who attended the help sessions she led were required to participate by answering questions – either verbally or on the board. While Olivier’s students were among those who earned the highest grades in the class, most of them did not start out that way.

“I didn't emphasize acing exams or getting the highest grades in the class, but focused on developing a mindset of confidence in the material, encouraging conversation, and – most importantly – improving from exam to exam,” Olivier said.

Having the opportunity to sit through the organic chemistry class for a second time and then teach it to others provided Olivier with a much deeper understanding of the subject.

“Having a strong organic chemistry background made it much easier to understand courses such as biochemistry, medicinal biochemistry and cell biology.  As a mentor, it gave me more insight into what factors can cause anxiety or frustration. Knowing that made it easier to help the peers I mentored through their academic troubles,” she said.

The most rewarding part of the experience was when her students did well on an exam.

“Anyone who has taken an organic chemistry exam knows that’s a rare occurrence,” Olivier said. “Knowing that they felt confident and proud of how they did on the exam – without even knowing their grade – made me unbelievably happy.”

Olivier, who majored in biology with a minor in chemistry, previously served as a supplemental instructor for biology. She also gained teaching experience by serving as an anatomy laboratory instructor at nearby Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire.

Before heading to Connecticut, she will attend a summer education institute at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., where she will earn nine credits toward her master’s degree and teach at a nearby summer school. 

In addition to her teaching job in Connecticut, Olivier will pursue an online masters of science in education from Johns Hopkins University. Ultimately, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology or medicinal chemistry.

“I had a great academic experience at MCLA,” Olivier said. “I developed really close relationships with many of my professors. They provided so much advice and encouragement throughout the year. STEM majors are especially difficult, but group studying is very encouraged. I had a great group of friends in the biology and chemistry departments, and it made the academics more manageable and enjoyable.”