MUSC’s Center for Academic Excellence and Writing Center

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Guest: Dr. Jennie Ariail - Education & Student Support/Center for Academic Excellence

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry


Dr. Linda Austin:  Dr. Jennie Ariail is Executive Director of Academic Support Services at MUSC.  Dr. Ariail, I know you hold several other titles, Director of Academic Excellence, as well as Director of the Writing Center.  Tell us about some of the most important and exciting student services that your office offers to students here at MUSC.


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  The exciting thing is that the Center for Academic Excellence and the Writing Center have four programs that enhance student’s educational experiences.  They’re great fun in an exciting, revolutionary way that compliments everything that goes on at this wonderful university.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, let’s take each of those four in turn.  What are they?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Well, we started with the Writing Center.  Our writing center is a concept that grows out of undergraduate education.  And I’m proud to say that we are the only freestanding healthcare biomedical science university in the nation with our own center.  Our folks there are faculty members with PhDs.  We help students, faculty and staff with any writing project.  So, if you come in and you say, oh, I’ve got a chance to apply for a scholarship, help me put my best foot forward or, excuse me, I’ve got this huge dissertation to write and I don’t know where to begin, we work one on one, or in small groups, on any writing project with anybody on campus. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  Very exciting.  What’s the second program?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  The second program comes under the auspices of the Center for Academic Excellence.  There are two things that we have going there.  One is, we know how to study at the speed of light.  Everybody who comes to this university is what I call a red bird, a stellar student that has done extremely well, and can do well here.  They’re just, sometimes, a little intimidated by the amount of material.  So, we’ve got this great five-step plan of how you get through that.  We do study skills and time management.  We’ll give you a learning styles assessment.  We’ll help you learn more about yourself as a student.  None of it sounds very glamorous or sexy, but it sure can make a difference here.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Wonderful.  How many students avail themselves of that program?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  We probably have about 1800 students who come through our program.  And, if you’ll let me, I’ll tell you the other part of that program.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Is this the third program?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  This is the third part of it.  So, there’s a program called Supplemental Instruction.  What we do is, let’s say you come in here and you’ve done really well, and you go to wonderful lectures and you hear the most fantastic professors lecture with exotic PowerPoints, and you leave that lecture and think, oh, wait, I didn’t get to ask this question or, wow, I wonder what all this really means.  So, we give students an opportunity to sit together in a small group by hiring somebody who has been through the course, knows the ropes, and knows what to look out for.  And these students get together for about three hours a week, depending on their schedules, and talk about what they’re learning.


Dr. Linda Austin:  How do you decide which courses to offer that for?  You, surely, can’t offer that kind of intensive support for all courses?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Oh, yes we can.  We are dedicated to making sure that if you have problems with a course, we will try to respond.  One of our most recent challenges, however, I must confess, is that we have many programs, particularly in the College of Nursing, that are now all distance.  And so, today, my challenge is to find someone in Sumter, South Carolina who can work with a doctoral in nursing practice student on Pathophysiology.  So, if I get that one conquered, I’ll be in good shape.  But, generally, there are specific beginning level courses that people have trouble with, and that’s the most.


Dr. Linda Austin:  And so you probably know from the get-go what those are going to be?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Absolutely.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Which are they in each college?  Which are the tough ones?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Well, in almost every college, Biochemistry is a doozy.  And students will come in and say, I was a Biochem major at Furman, Phi Beta Kappa, Suma Cum Laude, and, excuse me, in three days, he covered everything in my major.  So, Biochemistry seems to be one.  Everybody wants help with Anatomy; they’re excited about it across all colleges.  And then, particularly things like Pathophysiology and Pharmacology, Microbiology, and now this bran new doctorate looking at Pathophysiology, and Statistics; we get many requests.  So, graduate school helps us a lot, trying to find Statistics. 


I feel like I can sell snow to Eskimos because I’m always saying, this will be great for your CV (curriculum vitae), this is great teaching experience.  If you’re going on, your faculty and internships, and fellowships are looking for teaching experience.  And, now, it has an interproffessional component because we put students from one college helping with courses in another.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Oh, that is exciting.  Now, what is the fourth area?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  The fourth thing we have is Humanities classes now being offered as electives.  The faculty at the Center for Academic Excellence, the Writing Center, all come from a humanities background, so they, too, are interproffessional.  We offer them for twelve weeks.  We have one this semester, which is to be inclusive.  It’s Healthcare and Literature.  We’ll offer it again in the spring.  And then we have Writing the Healthcare Clinical Experience, which is a workshop.  Then we have a Film and Medicine course. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  You are, obviously, so excited about all of this, and I’m sure that excitement just infuses the programs that you lead.

Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Thank you.  Yeah.  I think we’re the greatest advocate on this campus for students.  We don’t give any grades, so we’ve got a way just to help you.  And, if you’re making a 94, and you want 100, we are there for you.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, it’s not necessarily for students, let’s say, with learning differences or students who are struggling, but any student who just wants to sort of squeeze that last drop of excellence that they have to give?


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  That’s right.  And they all come in here excellent, and they just want to be better.  So, I always say that I could never be a healthcare provider or a biomedical scientist, but what a privilege and pleasure to spend every day of the last part of my life making sure that these students get what they need.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Dr. Ariail, you do fantastic work, and you recently won a wonderful award for you work.  Tell us about that award.


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  I did.  I’ve never been as shocked and thrilled, and honored.  In a medical university, biomedical research, the people who are faculty, educated mentors, which is what my award is, mostly deal with the sciences and clinical care and, to my delight, the committee named me as the educator mentor.  I wrote all my students and said, okay, payback time, write me a little note.  And that’s the most treasured part of the whole thing, the notebook that the work-studies put together for me.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Well, congratulations, and good luck with this exciting work that you’re doing this year.


Dr. Jennie Ariail:  Thank you so much.

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