Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Meet Mathilda (Mat) Barriero, Director of the Learning Center

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Over the summer several new staff and faculty joined the intellectual community at Willamette.  Among them was Mathilda (Mat) Barreiro, the new Director of the Learning Center.

Mat’s arrival has been long anticipated.  Willamette created the Director of the Learning Center position after a multi-year planning process and an anonymous endowment gift.  As Director of the Learning Center, Mat will coordinate academic services devoted to helping students enhance their writing, language, mathematics and science skills.

Mat comes to Willamette with a wealth of experience directing academic success programs.  Most recently she was the Assistant Director of Academic and Career Advising at Salt Lake Community College.  Prior to that she held several positions related to academic advising during an 18 year career at Snow College in Utah.  With her experience she hopes to inspire students not only to complete their degrees, but pursue their aspirations and discover the full range of their intellectual potential.

According to Mat, students who achieve below their potential usually face one of two situations.  “Dealing with serious personal issues,” says Mat, “is often a cause of poor academic performance.  The issue absorbs all of the student’s energy, leaving little or no energy for academic work.”  A visit to the counseling center can help a student address a personal issue before it overwhelms them and seriously affects their studies.

The second situation involves students figuring out how to adjust to academic expectations in college.  “Professors at Willamette,” Mat says, “want students to do more than summarize the material presented to them.  They assume students already have that skill.” Students have to think about what the information implies, determine what information is relevant to a specific problem and then synthesize what they have found into a useful or creative solution to the problem.  “College courses,” Mat says, “involve more complex reasoning skills about more abstract topics than in high school.”  

Achieving success requires students to be proactive.  One of the secrets to success from Mat’s perspective is studying in groups.  “When you work in a group,” says Mat, “you engage both written and oral skills rather than just reading skills when you study alone.”  And, when you study in a group, your peers can challenge your ideas and help you think through the material.

Mat expects a significant portion of her work will be helping students coordinate study groups and finding tutors to lead those groups.  This will require increasing the visibility of the Learning Center, which she will begin by going into classes and telling students about the available resources.  The outcome we expect is that more students will seek input on their academic plans and how to take advantage of the academic resources at Willamette to achieve those plans.

In her free time, Mat enjoys gardening, reading and walking her cocker spaniel.  Mat is learning how to grandparent from a distance now as all her grandchildren are in Utah.  She is looking forward to exploring the beautiful farm country around Salem as she is a self-described “rural person.”