The Think Tank: The UA's New Hub for Academic Support

Academic support services – including tutoring, peer mentoring and weekly course review – are available daily to any UA student.
Aug. 25, 2009
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For workshop or collaboration ideas, or to request support for a specific course, e-mail


To invite a member of the Think Tank staff to visit a class, contact Victor Mercado, academic resource specialist, at 520-621-1921 or via e-mail at

University of Arizona students now have a central starting point, The Think Tank, to connect with writing, math and science tutoring, entry level course tutoring as well as weekly course review services, peer mentors and more.

The Think Tank, at the Student Academic Learning Center in the Nugent Building, houses these mostly free services that are available to any UA student.

A department within the Student Affairs division, the Think Tank evolved from an interest to streamline and centralize existing pockets of academic support services across campus. The program will collaborate with other existing academic support services and serve as a clearinghouse for other services available within UA colleges and departments.

"One of the things we did during our transformation in Student Affairs was to try and do things better and to save some resources. Our initial thought was to be able to centralize learning support in the Nugent Building," said Melissa Vito, vice president of student affairs.

The Think Tank uses the best practices implemented within many UA units, including the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques, or SALT, Center, Residence Life and the former University Learning Center, which included math and science tutoring resources.

The SALT Center served as a model of the Think Tank, but while the center offers services to students with learning or attention deficits for a fee, most of the services offered through the Think Tank are free.

Services are available to any UA student through self-referral via walk-in or by referral from UA faculty, administrators or staff.

The Think Tank currently offers free drop-in tutoring and academic support for the UA's heavily enrolled, tier one, general education introductory courses as well as foundation courses such as English composition, mathematics, Spanish and introduction to chemistry and physics. It is available to anyone who would like additional help with his or her course work.

Free services also include peer mentoring, study skills resources, supplemental instruction and writing assistance through The Writing Center.

The UA Student Services Fee supports some of the services, primarily by paying salaries to the roughly 100 undergraduate students hired to provide tutoring and other peer-delivered services, said Jeff Orgera, executive director of Student Academic Learning Services.

The peer mentoring component provides a leadership opportunity for those undergraduates providing services and lets those who are accessing services benefit from other students who understand what it takes to be successful at the UA.

Undergraduate peer tutors undergo a rigorous training program certified by the College Reading and Learning Association, CRLA, and are required to continue enhancing their tutoring skills at ongoing training during their time at the Think Tank. Additionally, Think Tank tutors are expected to uphold specific departmental expectations around the content they are tutoring (i.e. math, writing, etc).

Services with a fee include individualized tutoring, exam preparation and educational planning services.

Professional staff, graduate assistants and undergraduate students with areas of expertise in science, math and humanities are at the core of the center, which is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and 5 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

The staff will help to identify services most appropriate for the student's needs.

"The Think Tank is not about getting quick answers or only for students who are struggling. It is about creating a place where students connect with services, peers and professionals who collaborate in the construction of knowledge and understanding. Our staff is committed to helping students to become better learners through active engagement," Orgera said.

Think Tank staff are actively promoting services by presenting in classrooms and will have a presence on the UA Mall this week to inform students about what's available.

Orgera and his staff want students, faculty, administrators and staff to know that the program is open to their needs and requests.

"Students or faculty are invited to contact the staff of the Student Academic Learning Center to request the addition of courses that are not currently supported by the Think Tank. For example, weekly coursework reviews or tutoring could be added if suitable expertise exists with the staff," Orgera said.  

The program is seeking to collaborate with academic colleges and faculty with the goal "to ensure that our services align with departmental and faculty expectations. We want our colleagues to be confident that what we offer here is within their standards," Orgera said.

"Our goal in the near future is to have a faculty and staff working group for the Think Tank to keep the lines of communication open and help Think Tank staff stay current in all the courses and content areas it plans to support," Orgera said.

Also in the near future, the Think Tank will host a series of open houses for the campus community and will begin soliciting UA faculty, administrators, staff and students to become a part of its 2009-10 Advisory Committee.