April 30, 2024

Student Tutor Spotlight — Allison Binger and Savanna Davis

Student Tutor Spotlight — Allison Binger and Savanna Davis

At Atlas School, student tutors are current students who have performed at a high level within our program. Any student can apply, and select students are accepted as tutors, playing a significant role in the education of our students. Student tutors help students gain key insights into topics they are seeing for the first time, and relate to them having walked in their digital footsteps only a few months prior.

We sat down with two standout tutors, Allison Binger and Savanna Davis, to learn more about their experience as tutors and the support they provide to students within our program.

Can you tell us a bit about your academic journey at Atlas? What are you passionate about learning?

Savanna: When I started at Atlas, I had very minimal coding experience. The first month was the biggest learning curve I have ever had, but I am so glad I stayed and pushed through. Learning about technology and how things are made is honestly so fun! I thought I wanted to go to learn how to make video games, but after learning some front-end development, I realized I am most passionate about creating applications that truly can make a difference in our communities, big and small.

Allison: I came to Atlas after working in healthcare through the pandemic, and found myself wanting to change my career entirely. I obtained a Cybersecurity Analyst certificate through an online bootcamp and remember talking to others about how I didn't want to monitor systems, I wanted to build them. I had struggled with feeling creative in an artistic way but knew I had an itch to build and design, and soon enough Libby appeared on a YouTube ad. I had friends who were in the program and they couldn't stop encouraging me to apply. Once I started, I knew Atlas was different.

Being in person was a necessity for me, not only for community and collaboration but also a sense of accountability from my peers. I loved the environment that Atlas had built. The campus provided me with a safe place to feel encouraged and supported. Around the half-point of my first trimester, I started to struggle with imposter syndrome deeply, and felt that I wasn't really absorbing information and that I wouldn't be successful. I then discovered so many of my peers felt the same way. With their support, and the support of my instructors, student success coordinators, as well as family and friends, I challenged the imposter syndrome by looking back at all that I had done so far at Atlas.

I knew that all of the concepts would come together eventually and I was right. I was building programs, websites, databases, and even a video game! I saw that my passion to build was being supported by my school and I could flex my creative muscles with almost every project.

What made you decide to become a student tutor at Atlas School?

Savanna: I decided to become a student tutor because I realized I had a passion for teaching. It gave me so many fuzzy feelings during the first month when we were all learning how to code. When a lightbulb went off for me in my leaning journey, I wanted to share that with everyone else! Learning this stuff is hard, and I wanted to create a safe, collaborative environment with my cohort and cohorts below me through teaching!

Allison: During PLD, students naturally will take a role within the group. Some will take notes, some keep the group on task, some will stay on the whiteboard and share their ideas visually, and some will propose challenges to practice what we're learning. I noticed that I was taking on all of these roles in someway naturally. Every PLD a peer or staff member would comment on my whiteboarding skills, innate leadership, or ability to bring others into the conversation. My imposter syndrome kicked in and I would either get shy or deny any positive feedback. Eventually I saw that my drive to efficiently and effectively lead a group into a meaningful conversation about a technical concept was starting to help others in major ways. I was told by a peer, more than once, that the way I explained a concept or a particular method of using it was helping people get a better understanding of what we were discussing.

After being nominated and applying, I participated in an interview with both standard questions and a technical question. While I felt confident in the normal questions, I thought I absolutely bombed the technical question, as it was about a concept that I hadn't used or looked at for months. My answer was less technical, and partially a guess, but I took time in explaining my understanding of the concept and how I would go about helping a student find a more accurate explanation. I was not confident that I would get the position, but sure enough, here I am!

It made me realize that student tutors are not expected to have all of the answers right away, and it's okay if you as a student tutor need to look something up before answering a question. I'm not always there to teach my peers, but I'm always there to learn right beside them.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned about yourself as a student tutor?

Savanna: I am really good at explaining complex topics simply. I think that is by far the most helpful thing I bring as a stutor. Especially for new students who have no coding knowledge.

Allison: I've learned that while I consider myself to be a good communicator, nothing beats an expo marker and a whiteboard. I am 100% a visual learner, and I know now that I'm a visual teacher as well!

Do you have any unique/go-to strategies you use to help students grasp a difficult concept? 

Savanna: I think debugging is a very valuable skill, and it isn't something I learned how to do well until the end of my first trimester. Understanding that most issues in your code can be solved by adding something as simple as a print statement helped me exponentially when I couldn't figure out an issue. So anytime a student asks for my help, we add a bunch of print statements to debug the issue.

Beyond academics, what kind of support do you feel you can offer your tutees as a student tutor?

Allison: As the leader of the student-led organization Student Life Committee, I devote my time to partnering with staff and other students to enrich our time here at Atlas. We have a small group event that meets once a month called 'Cozy Corner' that provides non-technical guidance to students who are getting started at Atlas. While we may talk about the projects and courses, we don't actually get into any technical concepts. As a student tutor, I try to encourage students to join us at Cozy Corner and learn more about ways to improve their time at Atlas.

I also try to interact with students as much as I can. I want students to recognize me throughout the trimester so they feel comfortable enough to ask me anything about Atlas. I want them to see me as a safe person who they can talk to about technical or non-technical questions during their time here. I feel as though as a student tutor, I can be that familiar face, and they can see as a resource and a peer.

How do you think student tutoring contributes to a positive learning environment? 

Savanna: I looked up to student tutors during my first trimester. I still do, but during my first trimester, everything was so new and the concepts were so hard. I couldn't fathom that there were people who knew the concepts we were learning well enough to WANT to teach us these concepts too. So, I think stutors provide mentorship, even if they don't realize that is what they are doing. Everyone wants to be supported!

How do you create a safe and supportive environment for your tutees during tutoring sessions?

Allison: I always ask students what their knowledge is up front before we get into the task at hand. In other educational environments, I always hated having someone explain something I already knew (at least basic concepts), not listening or believing me when I said I understood it, and we never get to talk about new ideas.

I also encourage meeting on campus as much as possible. We have so many resources available to us and they can feel as though they're help in a structured and safe environment. This way, I can also call on any other tutors who may be there for further guidance, as well as use the projectors and whiteboards to aid in our sessions.

How do you see your experience as a student tutor impacting your future academic endeavors?

Savanna: I think it has given me a new perspective on learning. I now apply the strategies I give to newer students on the regular. It has improved every aspect of my learning, and I know it will continue to concrete the concepts that I have learned in previous trimesters.

If you could give one piece of advice to a future student, what would it be?

Savanna: It IS serious, but don't let the stress of the project timelines get in the way of what you're truly here for: To learn. You don't have to get 100's on every project. I was in the mindset that I HAD to get 100's on everything, but that caused me a lot of panic and stress when it just wasn't necessary. At the end of the day, if you can apply what you've learned, it doesn't matter - just keep that grade above a 60!

Allison: If you can, come to campus as much as possible. You'll find your people easier than you think, and be able to use all of the space, technology, and resources available to you. Sit down at the larger tables in Main or the Annex, and if someone doesn't have headphones on, ask them what they're working on and start up a conversation.

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