AARC 30th

Look who’s 30!

Last Thursday, the Academic Assistance and Research Center (AARC) celebrated its 30th anniversary in true Lumberjack style with cake, ice cream and an alumni gathering. 

The AARC opened its doors in October 1983, and many honored guests who were influential in the development of the AARC attended the celebration including Al Cage, Dr. Roy Alston, Marleen Meads, Dr. Troy Davis, Joe Gaut and Melissa Darlington. 

Current AARC Director M.E. McWilliams encouraged the honored guests to share their AARC experiences. 

 “The purpose was to retell the story and remember how it all began because frankly most people who are employed here now don’t know that story because they are too new,” McWilliams said. 

The AARC was originally conceived as an idea by a former vice president of academic affairs, Dr. Bill Franklin. After seeing a learning center at what is now Texas State, Franklin intended to create a learning center at SFA in some corner of the library. 

Cage, who served as library director for 37 years, remembers being summoned to a meeting in the Austin Building with the heads of the math, counseling and guidance departments and the chair of English and elementary education without any explanation.

“We all looked around the room going, ‘Why are we here together? What’s going on?’” Cage said. “He [Franklin] proceeded to tell us that he wanted to establish a learning assistance center in the library, but he had no money, no administrative structure in mind. He did have a location.”

A lack of funds and space hindered Franklin from seeing his vision come true; however, Cage continued to build the AARC from Franklin’s foundation. As space freed up, Cage was able to begin the learning center with part-time employees. 

“It was very much about helping remedial students; that was the vision at that time,” McWilliams said. “There was a director, Kris Bills Dixon, and she had a bigger vision to help all students. So she expanded the idea, secured funding and full time directors. That’s where the AARC really began.”

The AARC grew significantly under the leadership of Robin Wright. “She [Wright] was really plugged into learning centers across the United States,” McWilliams said. “She went about developing best practices for the AARC based on benchmarks from other universities.” 

Wright’s research led to the AARC’s success. The AARC won the Distinguished Certification by the National Association of Developmental Education.

“We are the only one who has the distinguished certification,” McWilliams said. “No one else was able to apply for that. They don’t even offer it anymore because they find it so unattainable.”

McWilliams notes that the AARC is now about “serving the greatest number of students in areas of the greatest concern.” The AARC offers weekly appointments, SI groups, online writing lab and walk-in tables. This year, there have been more than 85,000 AARC visits, according to McWilliams. 

Dr. Roy Alston was the AARC’s first math program director. 

“The idea for the math lab was to have computers with all kinds of math things. I tried various ones, and I didn’t like any of them,” Alston said. “I decided that we would do like the rest of them and have one-on-one tutors. I think that was a wise thing.”

Joe Gaut also served as the math program director for 13 years. 

“Roy had laid such a solid foundation for the math program all I had to do was take over and manage the growth phase,” Gaut said. 

Melissa Darlington joined the AARC as the writing program director in 1990. She became the AARC director and hired Dr. Troy Davis to oversee supplemental instruction due to its growth. 

“I felt like I was making a big difference in lives of the students helping them succeed with their goals,” Davis said.  

Marleen Meads worked under four AARC directors, but the most impressive job aspect she says was the tutors.

“Every job has its ups and downs, but I felt like the 15 years I was here that I had the best job on campus because I got to work with the best students and they turned around and were helping other students,” Meads said. 

Speaking of tutors, Kerron Joseph, who is now the AARC’s science program director, began his AARC career as a tutor. 

“I was a math and stats tutor. It was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of great people,” Joseph said. “It was one of the best jobs on campus. It’s awesome that the AARC is older than I am.”

Because of his AARC background, Joseph is able to relate to the tutors better because he knows how difficult it is to balance the demands of work and classes. 

A permanent sign hangs outside the AARC saying “Established in 1983” to commemorate its birth. 

“It is gratifying to come back 30 years later and see that a program that started as nothing more than an idea grow into something that has made a real contribution for which SFA can be really proud of,” Cage said.

The cake may be gone, the punch bowl dry and the balloons deflated, but SFA’s AARC is already looking forward to spring improvements. 

“We are really excited about where we are headed,” McWilliams said. “You never know where an idea can go. We have grown exponentially and have touched the lives of so many more students than we dreamed of because the University as a whole embraces us.”

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