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Helping Where It Counts: Math Cafe Aims To Help Students Succeed

“There are points when I feel like math is the bane of my existence,” says Clarissa Palmer, who is in her third term at LBCC. “Sometimes in class I just stare at my paper because I don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to ask for help when everyone else gets it.” This feeling rings true for many math students. That’s where the Math Cafe comes in.

The Math Cafe is a safe and friendly space with comfortable furniture and free coffee where students can go to get help in Math 50 through 111, do homework, or just hang out. The Cafe is located in Willamette Hall 227, and is open Monday through Friday from 8 am-5 pm, no appointment needed.

Palmer, who is now in Math 95, comes to the Math Cafe for a couple of hours almost every day. “My Math 50 teacher kept telling us about the Math Cafe and when I started having a hard time, around the fifth week of class, I came in and Brie [Wood] was really helpful. I liked how much homework I was getting done and that I could sit and relax without being bothered.”

Brie Wood, an instructional specialist and part-time math instructor, has been the Math Cafe coordinator since its inception. “There was always a developmental math desk in the Learning Center, but after getting a lot of anecdotal feedback from students in non-transfer classes saying they were too scared to ask basic math questions, we knew we needed something different,” said Wood.

The Math Cafe Team, consisting of faculty and staff from both the Math Department and Learning Center, was created in spring 2018. The team worked on the idea through the spring and summer, and the Math Cafe opened fall term 2018. The Cafe was initially designed to help students in non-transfer math classes (Math 50 75, 95, and 98) in conjunction with the math redesign and introduction of the new ALEKS software.

The Cafe was so successful it’s first year — increasing from 295 visits and 232 hours of use in fall 2017 in the Math Angle to 1847 visits and 1835 hours of use in fall 2018, the first term the Cafe was open — that they expanded this year to include help for Math 105 and Math 111. Because of the extra classes and increase in students, they moved to their new, larger, space in fall 2019, a good move considering the numbers increased again fall term to 2749 visits and 2895 hours of use. The new space also got a new look with more furniture, art created by LBCC art students, and even a fireplace.

When you walk into the Math Cafe and see students hanging out in the comfortable chairs, sitting around the fireplace, playing chess, or taking advantage of the free coffee, the last thing on your mind is math.

“Part of the plan was to have a space that didn’t feel like a math classroom,” said Sheri Rogers, one of the full-time faculty members on the Math Cafe Team. “We wanted it to be a comfortable space — like a cafe!”

One of the biggest differences between the old Math Angle in the Learning Center and the Math Cafe, besides the comfy chairs and coffee, is that there are always several staff walking around who will come to you when you need help.

Meg Taylor, a psychology major in her final term at LB, has experienced both the old and the new.

“About three years ago, I would go to the Math Angle and I would have to wait in line at the desk for help,” said Taylor, who is back at LB after taking some time off to work. “The vibe in the Cafe is a lot different. When I have a question there are staff roaming around to help, not behind a desk. Going into MTH 111, and hearing it was the most failed class at OSU was stressful. So, it’s nice to have a place to go with a relaxed vibe. I come in 2-3 days a week, grab a cup of cocoa, and knock out my homework.”

The Cafe has also redesigned the way they help students. “We want to help students pass on the first try. Not be stuck repeating a class,” said Rogers. “Support in the Cafe is not only focused on answering one question, but helping students learn how to study and practice so they can succeed.”

The staff in the Cafe can also help students develop study strategies, or homework plans. And if a student falls behind because they missed classes, or if they find themselves struggling for any reason, they can get help developing an individual success plan.

Students can make an appointment with Brie Wood or Misa Hargraves, who will coordinate with the student, and their instructor, to develop strategies for catching up and being successful. These plans are based on each individual student’s learning needs, and are completely free and confidential.

So, if you’re taking math this term, or you just want a comfortable space to do your homework, stop by the Math Cafe. And, if nothing else, according to Meg Taylor, “Who doesn’t like free coffee?”

Story and Photos by Brenda Autry

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