Peer-to-peer: Helping students adapt to life at McGill
The activities of the McGill Engineering Student Centre help international students like Marc Chelala make the most of their time in the Faculty, providing avenues for meeting friends and sharing knowledge.
Marc Chelala (BEng’16) has hand-built his experience at McGill out of helping others: former Director of Communications of the Engineers Without Borders McGill Chapter; current SciTech editor of the engineering rag, The Plumber’s Ledger; recent manager of the Engineering Peer Tutoring Service (EPTS); this year’s VP Academic of the Engineering Undergraduate Society… Chelala has his hand in a lot.
International students like Chelala (who arrived at the Faculty from Lebanon at the age of 18) face a number of challenges as they establish themselves in their new country and their new academic community. The activities available at the McGill Engineering Student Centre and the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) have made the difference for him.
“That’s how to make the best of McGill,” Chelala says, when asked about his highadrenaline involvement in extracurricular activities. “The interesting part is when different clubs and groups collaborate together: you get together with people with similar interests and work on the same project. You build friendships from that. That’s what keeps taking me from one type of involvement to another to another.”
One of Marc’s most cherished activities has been his work with the Engineering Peer Tutoring Service, where he was manager in 2014-15.
At the EPTS, 12 tutors from higher undergrad years give advice and academic support to students from earlier years. It’s a way to ease students who are coming from junior college, high school or overseas into life at McGill.
“Students feel more comfortable with peer tutoring,” Chelala explains. “A professor may have only two or three office hours a week, and those hours might not fit your schedule. There’s also the McGill Tutorial Service where you can have one-on-one tutoring. But the great thing about peer tutoring is that you don’t even need to schedule—you can just drop in.”
From 388 student visits in 2012-13, in two years Chelala and his team grew the service to 1,700 student visits. A recent influx of student-levied funds made the difference. Five additional tutors were added, including tutors for math, computer science, along with mining and materials— all dedicated to first year students. As well, the office was able to operate all week long.
“What I like about EPTS are the drop-in hours. You see a few students come by, and the next time they bring in their friends. It’s a nice hub for people to come in and study. And all of it is offered for free for students.”
That ‘free factor’ is thanks to student contributions and Alma Mater Fund donations that underwrite the academic support programs at the MESC. Chelala’s academic life, as well, has been personally touched by alumni giving: he’s received three major awards, the Hatch Scholarship, the Brodeur-Drummond Scholarship and the Edgar R. Parkins Scholarship.
“The other day I got to speak to an alumnus who was part of the Engineering Undergraduate Society,” Chelala says. “Alumni donate because they gained a lot from their time here and they want to give back. You look at them and you realize this might be you in a few years. So you don’t want their donation to go to waste. You want to make good use of it so that you will grow yourself and you will one day be able to give back.”