UW News

January 8, 1997

UW Biology Students From Underrepresented Groups Help Each Other Succeed

Several UW biology students are showing their appreciation of receiving tutorial services by becoming tutors themselves.

Through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Tutorial Center, these “veteran” biology students, many of whom are Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students, tutor and mentor other students from underrepresented groups who need help with introductory biology classes.

The people at the center hope that by helping economically disadvantaged and EOP students master these extremely competitive, overwhelming classes, these students can benefit from the rest of the curriculum and eventually attend medical or graduate school.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute Tutorial Center, located at 302 Hitchcock Hall, is part of a four-year, $1.8 million grant awarded to the UW in 1994 for the second time. According to the center’s 1996 annual report, between 35 and 44 students were served per quarter in 1995, of which 85 percent to 90 percent were underrepresented minorities. Furthermore, the majority of the tutors were from underrepresented groups, and five out of the nine tutors were former “tutees.”

“The idea for the center came out of need,” said Tekie Mehary, biology lecturer and instructor. He expressed how important it is to help pre-professional biology students of color, who are taking the 100 level classes, finish the program.

During the process of re-applying for the grant, Mehary said that he and others identified which classes students struggled with and what problems existed. “We thought students of color worked too many hours, and they didn’t take advantage of tutor hours. So for the second grant, we changed the format and added student tutors. Now there are two tutors for Biology 201, two tutors for Biology 202 and one tutor for Zoology 118.”

By providing a stipend to tutor students, Mehary feels this will result in a win-win situation for both tutors and their recipients. Mehary said tutors get a lot out of tutoring, because their confidence in their knowledge and ability increases as they teach. “When tutors teach, they learn twice,” Mehary said.

Currently, there are three UW graduate students serving as mentors and five undergraduate students as tutors, all of who Mehary described as compassionate, dedicated and good students.

Greg Perez, a tutor and senior in environmental health, said he first became involved with the program after he started taking science classes and used the tutorial service. “I had a weak science background. A lot of minority students are not prepared for natural science; I was always discouraged from going into science,” he said.

As a returning student at age 34, Perez is the first one in his family to go to college. “My parents were migrant farm workers. We didn’t talk about DNA analysis around the dinner table. We talked about how we hoped the rain doesn’t ruin our crops.”

Since last Autumn Quarter Perez has been tutoring students. He said he feels responsible for “giving back to EOP students” not only because he himself is an EOP student, but he remembers benefiting from the tutorial services.

Currently, Perez is applying to medical school. Looking back at his life, he admits that medical school did not enter his mind while growing up. Perez described his interest in biology as an evolution made possible by Charlie Garcia, director of the minority affairs program at the School of Medicine, the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Mehary. ###

Note: Grace Shim is a Diversity News Intern in the Office of News and Information, under a program supported by the Ford Foundation. <!—at end of each paragraph insert