Getting Down to Basics

CALS Language and Math Skills Program Matches Staff Tutors, Learners

Stephanie Adams communicates articulately and with ease when speaking. But put a blank piece of paper in front of her and her confidence is replaced by self-doubt and anxiety.

At least it used to be. Thanks to her campus colleague and volunteer tutor, Dennis Marino, and the CALS Project, Adams is feeling more confident and competent in her writing skills.

Her shortcoming was no big deal for the 17 years she worked as an X-ray technician. But as manager of purchasing, receiving, stockroom and mailroom for the molecular and cell biology department, she needs to write effective memos and persuasive letters of recommendation.

So she sought help from the CALS Project. The project is a confidential tutoring program for Berkeley employees who want to improve their writing, speaking and pronunciation, reading or basic math skills.

Learners are matched with volunteer tutors. Most of the tutors work on campus, but students and community volunteers participate as well. Usually the tutor/learner pairs meet once or twice a week for an hour over a six-month or longer period. Lunch times are popular meeting times.

In the four years since the program began, 272 learners have participated and 308 volunteer tutors have been trained, said Jane Griswold, the program coordinator and an enthusiastic champion of campus tutors and learners.

"Most learners in the program speak English as a second language and writing and speaking are the most common focuses of tutoring," said Griswold.

She said there continues to be demand by learners who work in a wide variety of jobs on campus. The project, however, could use more tutor volunteers.

The next six-session tutor training class begins Feb. 26. (See box.)

Adams approached the CALS Project when she recognized that her grammar, sentence construction and general writing skills needed strengthening.

"I'm sure I learned them years ago, but it was all on the back burner. Dennis helped bring them to the forefront," said Adams. "Dennis is very patient," she added.

Marino, a campus labor relations specialist, said tutors "get as much benefit as the learner. The benefits are just different."

He says tutors get plenty of ongoing assistance. "Jane has a very good introductory course," he said.

Adams and Marino usually meet once a week in Marino's University Hall office at lunch time. One strategy he adopted early was to get Adams writing frequently. Workbooks provided by the project helped them start with grammar and sentence structure.

Marino has convinced Adams that what's most important about what she writes is not the technical aspects. "It's the ideas that are important."

"I've learned it's OK if there's a mistake. The thing is to get it down," and then work on the fine points, said Adams.

Clearly, her confidence is growing. "I've been taking minutes at our staff meetings for practice. So now at our retreat, I'm going to do the minutes," said Adams.

An enthusiastic supporter of the program and other employee skills assistance on campus, Adams encourages anyone in need of help to take advantage. "I tell them, 'If you need something, it's out there. Go for it."


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
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