Health Sciences Faculty Showcase Mercy’s Supplemental Instruction and Learning Fellows Programs at International Conference

SI Conference picture

This summer, an international gathering of educators convened to report on an innovative learning methodology known as Supplemental Instruction (SI), giving Mercy College a chance to shine.

Dr. Irina Ellison, associate professor of health sciences and associate dean of the School of Health and Natural Sciences, and Christian Lucio, manager of Mercy’s SI program, traveled to Toronto, Canada, to attend the 12th International Conference on Supplemental Instruction. Sponsored by The International Center for Supplemental Instruction at University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the methodology was first developed, the conference attracted approximately 300 participants to share best practices and set a course for the future.

“SI is designed for students enrolled in traditionally challenging first-year courses like General Chemistry and Anatomy and Physiology,” said Ellison. Such courses can create obstacles to retention and persistence, derailing students from their career paths. “At Mercy, we want to change that narrative and propel our students forward, providing them with the tools and supports they need to be successful.”

Ellison emphasized that SI does not offer remedial lessons. Instead, it incorporates a deeper understanding of course content with study skills that can be applied to other coursework, in a collaborative learning environment. “It couples ‘what to learn’ with ‘how to learn,’ resulting in a greater sense of confidence and belonging in students who may at first be struggling with the material,” she said.

Led by Learning Fellows, students at Mercy College who did well in a course in a previous semester and apply to serve as peer mentors for students currently taking the course, SI takes away the stigma of needing additional support. “By placing the focus on high-risk courses instead of high-risk students, we make it possible for all students to improve their grasp of the material,” she said. “We are a community of learners with Learning Fellows as the leaders.”

At the conference, Ellison and Lucio gave a lecture and a poster presentation. “Mercy’s Learning Fellows are made up of 75-80 percent Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students, reflecting the diversity of our overall student body,” said Ellison. “Through this program, Mercy is modeling success and leadership to students who can see themselves in these successful peer leaders.”

While SI at Mercy is not new, the program has been reinvigorated through the support of a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the Title V Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions program. One of the main goals of the grant – known as the Advancing Curricular Change to Enhance Student Success (ACCESS) initiative is to improve student outcomes in Anatomy & Physiology I (A&P I) — a gateway course for health sciences majors. In addition to the grant, the hiring of Lucio as a full-time program administrator, and the formalizing and expanding of the professional development of the Learning Fellows, has also helped strengthen the program.

“The pandemic’s impact on learning loss occurred across the board, but has disproportionately affected marginalized students,” said Ellison. Supplemental Instruction has been shown to be the number one way to improve learning loss, particularly in these target populations.

“At the conference, Christian and I learned so much. It was instructive to observe the similarities and struggles all students share across the world, and to share strategies that can address these challenges. Supplemental Instruction will be hugely important for the success of Mercy students in coming years.”