Harvey Mudd Homework Hotline Begins Pilot Program

Approximately 40 Harvey Mudd College students have been employed as tutors in the HMC branch of the Homework Hotline program.The program began in 1991 at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana. Originally a small-scale operation, the program has grown and is now able to take more than 400 calls a night.HMC President Maria Klawe visited the Institute, said HMC’s Homework Hotline administrator Gabriela Gaimez-Gomez, and decided to implement the same program at Harvey Mudd. Philanthropists Marilyn and James Simons funded the endeavor through the Math for America New York Fellowship.The program, which is currently in its pilot stage, covers the Pomona Unified School District and the Claremont Unified School District. While no caller is turned away, these student groups are specifically targeted so that the program can develop a control group to monitor its development.Homework Hotline will continue to maintain communication with these districts so that it can better serve them in the future, said Gaimez-Gomez. Although the program only advertises math assistance, tutors are encouraged to try to answer questions from any field.Tutors attended training in late January, and the hotline took its first call on Feb. 1. On the first day, Gaimez-Gomez said, trainees participated in a video conference with tutors from the Rose-Hulman Institute. By participating in mock tutoring calls, the trainees became comfortable communicating help over the phone, including how to interpret the problem from the student, verify that the student is doing the problem properly, and explain material without visual aids.Fiona Foo HMC ‘13, a tutor for Homework Hotline, said the scenarios were simple but helped her feel prepared and comfortable. However, she still expressed some anxiety about her ability to answer any student’s question.“If a question doesn’t make sense,” she said, “I can see myself becoming really nervous.”The second day of tutoring focused on call situations, including not being able to understand the caller or receiving a question that the tutor cannot answer. Prospective tutors were also trained in using the call center and data collection software.Gamiz-Gomez has begun community outreach and organization efforts, “driving all over” to distribute fliers and visit schools throughout Claremont and Pomona.Rosalie Carlson HMC ‘13, also a tutor, explained the process of taking students’ calls. Tutors, she said, have access to any school textbooks the caller could be using, and each tutor has a whiteboard for quick scratch work.“There were definitely more people than I expected—it was interesting that I had to explain a lot of the same thing,” said Carlson. She said she expects the program to become even more popular.Foo said her biggest struggle was keeping properly synchronized with the student throughout the problem.“The question I answered was simple, but I spent about an hour working through it with the student,” said Foo.Gamiz-Gomez is particularly pleased with the interest shown by schools, families and Harvey Mudd students.“While Harvey Mudd students are very talented in math and science, they are also very giving, encouraging, patient, and [good at] coaching not telling,” Gamiz-Gomez said.Foo said she decided to participate in the program because it was “a cool thing to do” and because she likes math. She said she empathizes with students, knowing the frustration of working at home, isolated from help, and “feeling really stuck.”Gamiz-Gomez articulated that feedback is necessary for Homework Hotline. She said the program needs to be fine-tuned to cater to the specific needs of the community, especially because of the drastic demographic differences between the region covered by Harvey Mudd and that covered by Rose-Hulman. For example, Gamiz-Gomez arranged tutoring hours in the evening to avoid overlapping with other after-school activities. She sees the Homework Hotline as an after-school supplement, working in tandem with other programs with the same goal.The toll-free number for Homework Hotline at Harvey Mudd College is 1-877-8ASKHMC.

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