Prof teaching three students at table

VIU’s Volunteer Tutor Program offers free support / Image via VIU

I joined the VIU Volunteer Tutor Program last August because I was feeling a bit purposeless. I wanted to do something that helped people in a real and immediate way.

After tutoring a bit in high school, I felt ready to do it again.

The application process was easy. I reached out to the coordinator, Roberta Jenkins, via email, and we arranged a meeting. Then all I had to do was take a criminal record check, the $10 charge paid for by the program.

I immediately felt very welcomed and appreciated.

“I trust you,” Jenkins told me during our meeting. “Thank you,” I tried to say around a mouthful of doughnut she had offered me as soon as I’d entered her office.

The Volunteer Tutor Program offers free tutoring at the Nanaimo and Cowichan campuses for any level VIU course, the Aboriginal University Bridging Program, Workplace Essential Skills and Training (WEST), as well as Adult Basic Education Literacy courses, such as the Foundations for Success Program.

My interactions with the students I tutored proved to be as rewarding as that meeting. I felt honoured and humbled to work with such hardworking students with their own distinctive voices. I often found I was the most productive with my own coursework after tutoring sessions. I may have gained as much from the exchange as they did.

English student Kassandra Robicheau has been tutoring with the program for a few years.

“Overall I’ve really enjoyed the experience,” Robicheau said. “It’s been rewarding and a good way to get some safe social interaction, since I’ve only been tutoring digitally.”

All of the students she’s tutored have been very polite and appreciative, though not always consistent, she explained.

“There’s some awkwardness, especially with the all-too-common experience of being ghosted after one or two meetings, sometimes to be contacted again weeks later,” Robicheau said. “I remind myself that I’m just here as a resource to help them when they need it. If they decide it won’t help or it’s too late and they need to drop the course, I respect that.”

Despite the skipped sessions, Robicheau mentioned how fun and rewarding tutoring can be.

“There’s also a lot of joy,” she said. “Especially when students write to me to tell me about their success and send thanks, though I never ask them to do so.”

Tom Masters read about the Volunteer Tutor Program via a 2018 Cowichan Valley Citizen article. Having worked as a journalist, researcher, reviewer, and political columnist, as well as an “occasional” poet and playwright, Masters identifies his lifelong interest in English literature.

“Though I am not a professional educator, I thought I could be of service,” he said.

Masters has tutored an impressive twenty-five students over the past four years. They’ve varied in age and background, from Indigenous and English as a Second Language learners to candidates for Accuplacer exams looking to receive high school English credits. Masters has taught material ranging from grades 9-12 up to first and second-year university courses.

He lists the connections made at the monthly tutor meetings as a great benefit. He’s enjoyed working with students from widely differing backgrounds and life experiences, most of whom having been away from school for several years.

“To share with others my own love of language and good writing has been a constantly unfolding pleasure and has provided me with a great sense of accomplishment,” Masters concluded. “The road can be rough, frustrating, intellectually challenging, and at times emotionally draining; not much different from any other worthwhile enterprise in life.”

“I’m glad I saw that article in the Citizen four years ago,” Masters said. “I’d do it again.”

The students on the other side of the exchange have good things to say about the program, as well.

“It’s been amazing having one-on-one support during my time at VIU,” WEST graduate and 2021 valedictorian Lindsay Folland said. “I appreciate the volunteers for all of the work they do.”

I tutored Shelby Johnston for her ENGL 125 class last term, and always felt her appreciation for the opportunity. I asked how she had found the experience.

“Partaking in The Volunteer Tutor Program was a positive experience,” she said in a message. “Sessions were focused on supporting academic strengths and weaknesses, which I found helpful and effective. Thanks Isabella and VIU!”

There are about 36 tutors in the program, and the demand for more is great.

Five years ago, about 70 tutor requests came in per semester. In 2021, there were 150 requests for the fall semester alone, and Jenkins said the number grows every term.

“So far this term, I’ve already received over one hundred requests for tutor support—around 30 more than this point last term,” Jenkins said. “Around 70 students have been matched already.”

“This term there are students receiving support for subjects as diverse as trades, 2nd year stats, business and English, and 3rd and 4th year Political Science, Social Work, and Geography,” Jenkins said. “That’s a pretty typical term—a little bit of everything.”

If you’re interested in joining VIU’s Volunteer Tutor Program, check out their webpage. From there, you can fill out a form requesting a tutor, or email if you’re interested in offering your own tutoring services.

While there are no official qualifications to become a volunteer tutor, their webpage suggests that “enthusiasm, patience, a sense of humour, flexibility, open-mindedness, compassion, and empathy are all attributes that will serve you well as a tutor.”

I joined the Volunteer Tutor Program so I could help people (with the added bonus of it looking pretty on my resume). It surprised me to find how grounding and fulfilling the experience was. I feel like I learned as much from the students I worked with as they learned from me. Another semester of tutoring and learning with the program is something I’m looking forward to.


Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.

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