[UTD News] Undergrad Helps Multiply the Success of Professor’s Tutoring Program

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Undergrad Helps Multiply the Success of Professor's Tutoring Program

When he was a senior at Skyline High School in Dallas, Reynaldo Ortiz struggled to grasp the increasingly complex mathematical concepts in his Calculus II class.

His parents weren’t able to help. They had moved to the U.S. from Mexico before Ortiz was born, with only an elementary school background.

But thanks to a tutoring program set up by an engineering professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, Ortiz went on to pass his course and even earn a scholarship award.

Ortiz, now a biomedical engineering sophomore at UT Dallas, is returning the favor by tutoring younger students in the same program that helped him excel.

“I enjoy teaching others. I like seeing when the light bulb comes on and they say, ‘Oh, this is how you do it!’” Ortiz said.

Ortiz benefited from the guidance of volunteers with IntelliChoice, a nonprofit organization founded 23 years ago by Dr. Gil Sik Lee, a UT Dallas professor of electrical engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, to provide underprivileged children with tutoring and resources in mathematics.

Lee, who grew up in poverty in Korea and was the only one in his extended family to attend college, has a passion to help others succeed. He believes students who do well in school have a lower dropout rate and will more likely go on to become productive citizens.

“Education can change your life. I like to say that math equals success squared. Math careers like engineering and accounting pay better,” Lee said. “We strongly believe that a solid foundation in mathematics will lead to successful academic and professional careers for young disadvantaged students.”

Most of the 200 volunteers with IntelliChoice are UT Dallas students. Others are engineering professionals and even some high school students. These tutors help about 600 students at 11 learning centers in the Dallas area and two at the Native American Reservation in Arizona.

Since 2013, IntelliChoice has given scholarships to students who are participating in the program. Last November, the organization granted a total of $30,000 to 60 students who showed achievement in mathematics.

Ortiz received a $500 scholarship from the organization in 2015, which he used to purchase a laptop computer that he needed.

“I’m thankful for everyone, especially Dr. Lee, who helped me succeed,” Ortiz said.

He recalled struggling with math classes during his junior year of high school, but said tutors helped bring him up to speed. By his senior year, other students were asking Ortiz for help.

“I was at the head of my class,” Ortiz said. “It was a matter of figuring out the steps, knowing what to do next. The volunteers explained it thoroughly and gave examples for me to follow.”

Making the transition to college was challenging for Ortiz, but in his sophomore year at UT Dallas, he is “a lot more relaxed now.”

“Freshman year was a really hard experience. I had no coding skills from high school, so I felt I was playing catch-up much of the time,” he said.

Ortiz now shares his hard-earned mathematical skills as a tutor for elementary through high school-age kids on Saturday mornings at Skyline Branch Library. He also frequently helps his two younger sisters with their homework.

“I help them with their math. Only math,” he said.

[Published on April 26, 2017]

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