Helping Students Gain Academic Superpowers

Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry serves as co-director of Bethel’s Academic Enrichment & Support Center, which supports student academic success with an array of helpful services. He’s passionate about working with students who are in the process of “learning how they learn best,” he says. “It’s like watching them start to develop their academic superpowers.”

By Michelle Smith Westlund ’83, S’21, senior content specialist

June 16, 2022 | 8 a.m.

Sam Mulberry

Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry

Sam Mulberry is co-director of Bethel’s Academic Enrichment & Support Center (AESC) and teaches in the department of history, philosophy, and political science. In this Q & A he explains more about AESC and offers his top suggestions for students—and parents of students—to consider as students seek to develop the academic superpowers that will help them succeed in college.  

What are the goals of Bethel’s AESC and how are those accomplished?

The main goal of AESC is to help students to become successful independent learners. We do this by offering various forms of academic support—drop-in tutor labs, academic counseling, and individual peer tutoring. All of these services are aimed at helping students not only to be successful in their current courses, but also develop the study skills that will help them succeed in future coursework and beyond.

Describe your role with AESC. How does your background equip you for your work there? What do you enjoy most about it?

I serve as the co-director of AESC along with Professor of Psychology Ruth Nelson. In addition, I teach in the department of history, philosophy, and political science and am one of the coordinators of Bethel’s Christianity and Western Culture (CWC) course. In AESC, I serve as one of five faculty academic counselors who meet with students in order to teach study skills and time management, and coordinate tutor linkups. I am always excited to work with students who are in the process of learning how they learn best. It’s always gratifying to watch students as they start to develop the skills, abilities, techniques, and disciplines that work best for them. It’s like watching them start to develop their academic superpowers. 

What are the most common concerns of students seeking help from AESC and how are those addressed?

I think the most common concern is time management. This is especially true for students who are in transition: from high school to college, from one major to another, from first-year courses to upper-level courses, etc. As students make transitions like these, often the nature of the academic work they are required to do also changes. For example, if you think of the typical high school senior, they are a very busy person, but they are usually busy in a highly structured way. They are in class for eight hours per day. They have club meetings, athletic practices, and work and family commitments. In short, their time is highly scheduled and structured by all of these things. If you think of the typical college freshman, they are also a very busy person, but the nature of their busyness is very different. They are likely in class only fifteen hours per week. They have a lot of academic work to do that happens outside of class, and they have a lot of unstructured time to complete this work. First-year students often struggle with how to manage these tasks and this time. In AESC, we love to work with students to help them explore and discover the time or task management techniques that are most effective for them. 

A distinctive of Bethel is a commitment to academic excellence. How does AESC help support student success in an academically rigorous environment?

AESC helps to support student academic success by working directly with students to try to build the specific supports that they need and by helping those students work toward academic independence. We realize that no two students are the same, so we take the time to meet students and figure out what type of support might be most effective for them. In this process, we also are in communication with the student’s faculty to gauge what areas and types of support they think might be most effective. As a team—student, professor, and academic counselor—we work together to put in place the best type of support for that student. 

How can parents best support their student’s academic success at Bethel?

The best way that parents can support their student’s academic success is to have regular communication with them about their classes. Take a genuine interest in the classes your student is taking and what they are learning. Ask them what they are reading and what they are discussing in class. Ask them about upcoming exams, papers, and projects. Establishing regular open communication about academics from the very beginning can make it easier for the student to express both when things are going well and when they might be starting to struggle. If they start to express concerns or struggles in their classes, encourage them to contact their professors and to visit AESC.

What are your top suggestions for ways students can equip themselves for academic success at Bethel?

  1. Communicate well. From the very beginning of the semester, get to know your professors and at least a few people in each one of your classes. Creating these lines of communication early will help you build a support structure in your class long before you ever need it. When you have questions, ask them. All professors at Bethel have office hours when you can go in and ask questions, or you can catch your professor directly after class. Don’t let your questions go unasked. Also, remember that communication is not just about what you say, it is also about how you listen. Pay attention to communications from your professors, teaching assistants, and other Bethel offices. Check your Bethel email and post office box regularly. These are the primary ways that Bethel will communicate important information to you.                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. Learn to manage your time. Every successful person does it differently, but every one of them does it. Develop a system for how you keep track of what you need to do and when you plan to do it. This is not something that you have to do on your own. AESC is here to help you develop a system that works well for you.                                                                                                
  3. Realize that there is no substitute for time spent. Really learning something well takes time. Reading takes time. Working through math problems takes time. Wrestling with complicated ideas takes time. Writing well takes time. The general idea is that for each credit a course is worth, you should expect to spend two to three hours outside of class studying to really learn the material. Don’t shortchange yourself and your learning by looking for ways out of spending that time. That time spent is where most of the deep, lifelong learning comes from. Being a student with a full-time academic schedule is a full-time job. Treat it like a full-time job.  

 Is there anything else you think is important to know about Bethel’s AESC?

Students should just check out the AESC office (HC324). If you need academic support, come to AESC. If you have questions, come to AESC. If you want to learn to be a better student, come to AESC. And if you want to be part of providing academic support by working as a paid tutor, stop by AESC.

Your journey starts here.

A Bethel education prepares you to excel after graduation. But we help you excel while you’re here, too. Our student services offer support in areas like academics, career development, health and wellness, intercultural experiences, and so much more. At Bethel, we’re committed to your growth as a whole person.

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