SPINELLI CENTER FOR QUANTITATIVE LEARNING
Cat McCune is the director of the Spinelli Center at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning at Smith College was established in 2007 as the Quantitative Learning Center, renamed in 2010 for Viola "Vi" Spinelli, class of 1947. Vi felt limited by her unease with numbers, and she wanted to make sure that future Smith students would not have the same limitation. Smith College is a small (2,500 students) liberal arts women's college located in Western Massachusetts. The Spinelli Center started out in Neilson Library, and is now located in Seelye Hall, in the room that was the first library at Smith. It has four tables that each seat six students, a pair of computer stations, white boards on wheels, and some soft seating with a charging station.
The Spinelli Center's director, Cat McCune, received her PhD in mathematics (minimal surface theory) from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She currently teaches Math Skills Studio and Pre-/Calculus Boot-camp each year, although the main part of her work is recruiting, training, and supervising approximately 55-70 STEM+ tutors each semester. The tutors support courses in over a dozen departments, including biology, chemistry, economics, mathematics, and physics, in addition to courses in the engineering program and the statistical and data sciences program.
The focus of the first tutor training is establishing and maintaining a welcoming environment, with subsequent training sessions about asking questions, wait-time, neurodiversity, equity and inclusion, study skills, and metacognition. Spinelli Center tutors mostly hold drop-in hours, although most tutors have availability for a few individual appointments each week. Some tutors have one or two students at a time during their drop-in hours, while some cohorts regularly have 15-20 students in attendance.
One of Cat's favorite aspects about her job is the broad collaboration with others in academic support. At Smith, the Spinelli Center has partnerships with the Jacobson Center for Writing, the Office of Disability Services, and the Library's Learning Commons. Beyond Smith, directors of quantitative, mathematics, or science academic support centers gather through the MLCL, the Q-Department, the National Numeracy Network (NNN), and the Research Agenda for STEM Academic Support (RASAS) working group. These are all venues for collaboration in thinking about how to reach the struggling students, how to inclusively support students through tutoring, and how to best train peer tutors.