decorative image of Bellwether-1-copy ,   2017-02-07 15:07:03 Published: 02-07-2017

A program that provides tutoring to Pensacola State students – in their home, at a coffee shop or even in a war zone – has garnered the college a top national award.

Pensacola State’s Virtual Tutoring Program is the winner of the prestigious 2017 Bellwether Award in the Instructional Programs and Services category. The program beat out more than 2,500 initial applicants, and nine other top finalists to garner the award.

Ed Meadows, Pensacola State president; Kirk Bradley, dean of Baccalaureate Studies and Academic Support; and Michael Johnston, director of Institutional Research; were on hand to receive the coveted award at the Community College Futures Assembly (CCFA) held in Orlando Jan. 31.

Meadows described the Bellwether Award as the Heisman Trophy for colleges. It has been compared to football’s Heisman because it is competitively judged and is given by peers in community colleges across the country, with no cash award.

“The Virtual Tutoring Program allows our students the opportunity to be successful, master difficult courses and remain and progress in college,” said Meadows of the program that offers tutoring in math, anatomy and physiology and chemistry courses.

One such success story is Taylor Price, a pre-engineering major, who used the program to master Introduction to Chemistry.

“I can’t remember how many times I logged into the virtual tutoring program for help with chemistry. I had considered dropping the class because I didn’t understand it and I didn’t do well on my first exams,” said the 26-year-old Army veteran. “I work full-time so I could only get tutoring after work. But after getting the help online, I started passing the exams and was able to pass the course with a good grade.”

Today, Price is preparing to graduate and move on to a four-year university.

Established in 2015, the program is staffed by instructors with masters’ and doctoral degrees and is a live site so students can see and talk to the tutors until 11 p.m. – all from their laptops, desktops or even smartphones. The tutoring sessions are also videotaped so students can refer back to them.

The virtual tutoring program also has improved student outcomes and won the Bellwether for its data-backed success in helping students to complete math and science courses with higher grades and lower withdrawal rates.

Johnston, who was instrumental in designing and implementing the project, summed up the strength of the virtual tutoring program with the example of “Linda,” a 60-year-old student who lives in Century. Through the virtual tutoring program, she completed two math classes that she previously had been unable to complete.

“Completing those classes meant that she was able to complete her degree and find employment. This kind of success is potentially life-changing for students,” said Johnston who added he has tutored students who have been deployed to the Middle East.

Sponsored by the University of Florida’s Institute of Higher Education, the CCFA focuses on cutting-edge, trendsetting programs that other colleges might find worthy of replicating.

Since the Bellwether awards were established in 1995, Pensacola State College is only the fourth college in Florida to be selected as a winner in the Instructional Programs and Services category and the sixth winner from Florida in all categories. The last time a Florida college won the award was in 2006.

Meadows said winning the award was a team effort of the college’s faculty and staff.

“I am so proud of the hard work and dedication to our students exhibited by so many of our employees,” he added. “This project is a prime example of that hard work and dedication that has resulted in significant improvement in retention and grade attainment for our students.”