We wanted to share a resource and an opportunity that is a big part of our experience and a big part of our success strategy here in the College of Engineering at Cornell. We are currently the undergraduate leaders for a set of workshops that we want to share with you if you decide to join us here! We both started out as students in these workshops, and we believe in their value so much that we have been in leadership roles for the past year and will be leaders in the upcoming academic year as well.

Academic Excellence Workshops, or AEWs, are supplemental 1-credit courses that engineering students can take to complement their core math, chemistry, and CS courses here at Cornell. Led by trained undergraduate peer educators who have taken the specific class previously, AEWs meet once a week for two hours for a collaborative problem-solving session. AEWs provide a great opportunity for those students who would like to gain a deeper understanding in the course material or need extra support for a class.

Most of the students in the workshops find that the required group work helps them understand the material better, learn different ways of approaching problems, and gives them an opportunity to make great friends. As you get to know people, it’s like a group study session for work you would be doing anyway! Facilitators help students with all sorts of things in addition to helping the learning happen. As mentors, the leaders share resources and tips about valuable course related and extracurricular things that are very helpful.

In my experience, AEWs have helped me do better in my classes. My freshman year I took an AEW in chemistry and CS1112 (matlab). I really struggled in chemistry and CS in the past, so I knew I would need extra support going into college. The AEW helped me not only understand the material better, but also provided two hours a week dedicated to studying the material and not falling behind. In the workshops we would be split up into groups and work on a worksheet together. Not only did these classes help me get better grades, but they also helped me feel connected with the Cornell community. In the class I was able to meet peers who were in the class and learn from them. They helped me understand the material and feel less alone in a large class.

For me, AEWs were a saving grace during my first three semesters. The difficult courses I took made the transition from high school life to college overwhelming at times, especially during my first semester. In lectures, I would see this material that was really hard to understand but it seemed like it would just click for everyone else in the room based off of their body language, which made the whole experience feel pretty isolating. When I would go to my AEW, though, I had the complete opposite experience. It gave me the opportunity to interact with my classmates and learn in conjunction WITH them. Every week, it was the class that I most looked forward to because it felt like it would take a huge weight off of my shoulders. I could see that I wasn’t alone – all students have challenges transitioning to college! – and it made me feel like I could really learn the material well and excel in the course. These workshops completely transformed my college experience and made me reevaluate the way that I learn and interact with my peers.

We hope you find yourself here, and if you do, we hope you will add these great workshops to your schedule! Often students choose these to help them feel confident about the material, and that definitely happened for both of us. Studies show that working collaboratively in the way we do in AEWs is the best way to deepen learning for all students! They are a great way to spend structured time using evidence-supported learning strategies and collaborating with peers on important and complex topics. We also enjoy now being trained facilitators, learning even more and paying forward the value we got by being students in the workshops. Something to consider as well!

Good luck with your choices and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about the Cornell experience!

-Karen & Rafael