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Columbia College's

Academic Wellness Educators    

Keeping Us Connected

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Keeping Us Connected                 

Volume 3, Issue 4, December '09


AWEStar of the Month


Casey Bonavia, December’s AWEStar started out as a student at Columbia College and was asked if she would like to help in the Math Lab part-time. After graduating in 1989, she was hired permanently as an Instructional Support Specialist.  Casey can’t say enough about Columbia College and the support she received throughout the years. It gave her the heart for the students she helps now because when she came to Columbia she was a single Mom, trying to continue her education and knows firsthand the struggles and challenges. Now 20 years later she is graduating, with a BS degree in Math and minor in Statistics, from Chadron State College in Nebraska and hopes to start an MS degree in the fall of 2010. When asked about her specialty in tutoring math she stated she loves the variety and doesn’t really have a specialty. She likes the opportunity to be able to assist in all kinds of math, from Basic Math up to Calculus and the challenge is not only in finding the answers, but helping others to navigate to the answers themselves.

Casey Bonavia, Math IA

Casey Bonavia, Instructional Support Specialist for Math

Casey was on the original Basic Skills Task Force helping to draft the initial report, reviewing past and current practices. That committee grew into what we now know as “AWE” the Academic Wellness Educators Committee. Last spring Casey co-partnered and took part in the online developer’s training with Anne Cavagnaro to develop a hybrid online class called “Math in the Workplace” focusing on Automotive, Business, and Culinary. Casey and Anne also partnered to write a Problem Solving Module which is actually in print and outlines stages and steps for problem solving in general.


Casey uses this concept of problem solving when helping students. She also worked on identifying all the different types of math that might be used in Vocational Education. Casey scoured through each of the text books and wrote contextual problem sets that would enhance basic math skills in several areas of the Vocational Education curriculum.

When asked the type of math she likes best she said that, while she enjoys math, it is more about the students and helping them to understand the math that brings her enjoyment. Casey states that it is important to build a foundation. Learning math is easier accomplished when students learn to develop study skills such as reading and outlining their math textbooks. It is not just about working problems. To be successful in math it takes different layers, having the basics skills is important but it is also necessary to have strategies of how to study, read and write math. She wants students to know that they can take their books and outline the reading and this will help to give them the tools to work the problems. Casey emphasizes that math is a language. While the building blocks of math can be very simple, the concepts and ideas can be very rich, difficult and deep, much the same as the alphabet can be used to write an elegant essay.

Casey understands that many students have a math phobia and are dealing with serious fears. In many instances, the subject of math has a psychological aspect to it and joked that quite possibly it is why the Math Department is located next to the Nurse’s office. Once a student can get past their fears, for the most part, they can do the math and will continue to grow and learn. Casey knows firsthand that overcoming a math phobia is best done in incremental steps and students need to have their own personal successes in an approachable and safe environment. Casey is happy to help provide that for the students and finds it very rewarding to watch students go from fearful to successful in their study of mathematics.


Tutor's Corner





Our featured tutor this month is Agnieszka “Sigil” Smelkowska-BlackWolf. Sigil began tutoring in fall of 2005 and plans to transfer to one of the UCs in the fall of 2010. Sigil stated that Ted Hamilton and Paula Clarke inspired her to pursue transferring to a 4 year university. She has already been accepted to UC Davis although she is also applying to Berkeley and Stanford, hoping to earn a double major in Sociology and Political Science.


Sigil, AAC Tutor

Sigil Smelkowska-BlackWolf. AAC Tutor


Sigil believes that good communication is the key to becoming successful. As an example, when a student comes to her for proofreading a paper she teaches them how to fish. In other words, she teaches them how to use outside sources such as a dictionary, textbook and other tools. The idea is to equip the student to be able to find the information in order to be self-sufficient and resourceful. She doesn't just correct papers for the students she helps them organize their thoughts and apply simple rules that can be applied in other areas. It is important  to her that they understand why they are applying a particular rule of punctuation or grammar, not just point it out to them.

When asked what she would like to share with all of us, Sigil wanted to remind us all that the because the United States is undergoing a transition from industrial to post industrial conditions, the role of education is also changing. There are many social and economic pressures our students are facing, and being sensitive and providing help without compromising our commitment to higher education, is important, especially to our non-traditional students. She believes that the ultimate goal of education is transformation of students into responsible citizens through challenging their assumptions and helping them develop critical thinking skills along with qualities of resilience and resourcefulness.







to send your FIG proposals


Adrienne Seegers

before Friday,

December 18th





Christmas Bulb on Tree Limb





The AWE Committee




everyone a


Happy and Healthy


Holiday Season!


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact Adrienne Seegers, Anne Cavagnaro, Alicia Kolstad, John Leamy, Lynn Martin, Karin Rodts, Craig Johnston or Melissa Colón. Check out the AWE Web site.