Kalamazoo Valley student Bonnie Collins clearly remembers the comment from instructor Stephen Louisell that made her reconsider her options. He told her that she was so smart that she should set her sights high. “I credit him with getting me on this path,” Collins said. “He made me say, ‘hey wait a minute. I can aim for something higher.’”
Collins, a general education student who plans to transfer to nursing school in the fall, has been a Psychology 150 teaching assistant for Louisell for two semesters. Louisell offers only students who earn an A in his Psychololgy 150 class the opportunity to be his tutor. “I’ve been using teaching assistants in Psychology 150 since the early 1970s,” Louisell said. “Many have been quite good and more than a few have gone on to graduate and professional school. But Bonnie stands out in the 43 years I’ve been running the program. Last semester she earned credit for being a TA; this semester she’s doing it because she enjoys helping students.”
A group of ten to 12 students routinely show up for twice a week tutoring sessions with Collins. The group grew so large that Collins was asked to move her sessions out of the Learning Center and into a classroom. “It’s been a really great challenge for me,” Collins said. “At first I thought I was too shy, too bashful, but now I am comfortable speaking in front of a group.” She weaves personal stories about her life into her tutoring sessions and the students are hooked. Collins loves it, too. “The secret is, I really like being a teaching assistant for instructor Stephen Louisell,” she said. “It’s been such a good experience for me.”
Collins’ students are also benefiting from the sessions. Louisell says the PSY 150 students who regularly meet with her typically boost their final grades by a full mark.
Collins earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Michigan State University in 1987, but has always worked in retail. When she approached 40, she realized that she wanted a new career. “I was a total liberal arts student back then,” Collins said of her first stint in college. “I was afraid of taking anything that smacked of science or math. It’s ironic that these are the classes that I absolutely love now. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. I can sing Valley’s praises because it has made a huge, huge difference in my middle-aged life. When I came out here, I had no idea I’d end up thinking I could be a nurse. Taking Mr. Louisell’s class made me realize that I can succeed at challenges.”
In addition to doubting her abilities as a new college student, Collins worried that she wouldn’t fit in. “I was quite apprehensive when I first came out here,” the Kalamazoo resident said. “I found out that Kalamazoo Valley attracts a very diverse student body. Whether you’re just starting out or changing careers midway through life, there are plenty of people in the same place – and the instructors are not going to let you fail. I hadn’t cracked a book in some 20 years, but, whatever you set your mind to, there are people here who want you to be successful.”
Collins said biology instructor Jack Bley, who teaches human physiology, is another example of an instructor who helps ensure student success. “He’s really interested in seeing students achieve their very best,” Collins said. “I still make a point of visiting with him occasionally just to shoot the breeze.”
Bley, in turn, enjoys having Collins share her latest successful adventure in academics. They can commiserate about shared teaching frustrations. “She's one of the good ones who will be making us all proud to have helped her become a great nurse," Bley said.
Collins is certain that her experience as a psychology tutor will enhance her abilities as a nurse. “The thing is, I have discovered that I really like psychology,” she said. “I’m interested in psychiatric nursing. Even though at first glance this seems unrelated to nursing, I know I’m going to need interpersonal skills and the ability to put others at ease. Thanks to this experience, my confidence has gone through the roof. I’ve gained so much practice in relating to a diverse population. It also helps to have a sense of humor.”
Collins’ daughter Dinah is a sophomore at Hackett Catholic Central High School. “She’s been hugely supportive of my decision to go back to school,” Collins said. “My experience at Kalamazoo Valley has been wonderful. A community college education is something she should do, too. I know now that it can be a tremendous experience.”