More than a Job: Students Engage in College’s MAST Program

This article is part of the Clerk’s spring series on student workers.

The Mentoring and Student Teaching Program (MAST) here at Haverford is designed to help students help others. Both a job and a personal commitment, MAST requires the dedication of individuals who are willing to spend their Saturday mornings teaching middle school and high school students. This “job” is somewhat different from others on campus because although students are compensated for a time commitment, they are also building a connection with students who attend schools typically underrepresented in the academic field of the sciences. Additionally, as Haverford students help teach curriculum, they are also building their own leadership roles by learning how to become effective communicators.

“I’ve done a lot of programs like this when I was younger and I kind of wanted to give back like from what’s been given to me,” said Abiola Irvine ’20, a psychology major and MAST tutor. “And as someone from the Philadelphia area…I feel like I would be able to connect with these students a lot more.”

Like many other students on campus, Abiola holds more than one job, but she points out that this job is different because she is making an impact on students who come from the same area she comes from. Also she gets to teach them science, an academic passion she is most enthusiastic about.

What is MAST?

MAST is a program targeted towards low-income students from the Philadelphia area. The program is funded by Koshland Integrated Science Center (KINSC) as a way to help students gain more experience in the sciences and writing. It is an outreach program that students on Haverford’s campus can choose to take part in.

In the program, each Haverford tutor has a group of students that they work with, typically made up of two or three students, either through small group writing tutorials or through a science lab. They may be working with students that are in middle school or in high school but would indicate that preference when they apply on the MAST application. Usually students choose to tutor students in either in writing or science based on their academic interests at Haverford.
One of the focuses this year has been to expand the science portion of the program, to include new labs and to develop more challenging curriculum for students. This is because some students return to the program the following year. This year in particular the science portion includes labs dealing with human anatomy, food chemistry, and computer science. Some of the labs done each year include those such as a shark dissection and DNA abstraction for middle school science students.

How is MAST different from other campus jobs?

While MAST is program dedicated to the academic success of scholars, it is also dedicated to providing social support for students. This student mentor program seems to be different from other campus jobs in that tutors develop close relationships with their tutees in ways that position them as role models. Not only are they teaching students academic skills, but through their actions, they are becoming examples of how to sustain an effective college life by balancing both work and extracurricular activities.

Sierra Zareck ’20, a writing tutor for the program, describes her experience as such:

“I originally decided to join MAST because I had been a peer tutor in high school. As a black, Caribbean, mixed woman I wanted to help others like me who are underrepresented in higher education succeed. However, within MAST I have found a real passion and excitement for teaching. I am truly in awe of my students and what they are capable of. Being able to see them learn, grow, and produce such creative work is truly inspiring.”

For MAST tutors, the time commitment usually involves three hours every Saturday morning working diligently with students. Additionally Haverford tutors have weekly meetings which are usually a time for them to come together and brainstorm what labs they are going to introduce to students that Saturday. The two leaders of the experiment that week are usually responsible for crafting a powerpoint explaining the experiment and how it relates to some aspect of science.

What are Haverford tutors saying about the program?

For tutor Barbara Thomas ’20, an anthropology major and chemistry minor, providing a fulfilling experience for her tutees is imperative. As a tutor for high school science, Barbara stresses the importance of speaking with them about the importance of the college process especially since that reality is so close to their future.

“I decided to work for my MAST the first semester of my freshman year,” said Thomas.  “I thought it would be a great way to interact with students from a similar background as me. More importantly, I believed it to be a way to mentor and inform students about things to consider when finishing high school, the college application process, and general college life.”

Zareck has also enjoyed her experience working in the program, but said she would like to see more people of color participate in the program.

“I do feel the program in my experience has strayed from its original intent: showing those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in higher education they can make it there too and helping them do so,” she said. “When it first started, MAST was composed mostly of tutors from those underrepresented groups, allowing them to serve as evidence to students that despite societal blockades they could succeed in higher education. People who looked like them, talked like them, came from similar worlds as them were able to go to college.”

Thomas has also noticed that there has been a decline in the number of underrepresented students who are tutoring other students.

“I wish more of the tutors or all of the tutors were people of color,” she said. “MAST began as a program where mentors and students of color could interact, and I believe there is true value in that. Despite that, there are many foregoing changes in the structure of MAST that will benefit its future.”

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