Penn State Berks launches Homework Hotline for middle and high school students

September 01, 2016

Penn State Berks will officially launch the Penn State Homework Hotline, a pilot program in which college math tutors provide free help over the phone to students in grades 6–12, on Tuesday, September 13, 2016. The pilot program will include Berks Catholic, Cocalico, Exeter, and Twin Valley school districts, with the plan to extend to additional school districts in the future.

The Homework Hotline will provide tutoring sessions for local middle and high school students by telephone on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 6–9 p.m. throughout the school year. Students should call 610-396-6767 to speak to a tutor.

In the spring semester of 2016, Penn State Berks was the first campus to launch the Penn State Homework Hotline internally to its current students. The mission of the program is to provide free math tutoring to high school and middle school students in local school districts. Penn State New Kensington and Schuylkill also are a part of the program.

Penn State Berks students with strong math skills were hired to serve as tutors and are guiding fellow students through their homework problems by focusing on the terms and processes.

“The goal is not to deliver answers to questions but to provide students with the skills to answer the next question on their own,” explains Dr. Marietta Scanlon, Lecturer of Engineering and Director of the Penn State Homework Hotline at Penn State Berks. "If we can offer that, and at the same time help students to become more confident in their math abilities, we're providing a great service."

Jake Latchum, a math teacher from Berks Catholic High School, leads the group of five Penn State Berks student tutors, who include Mechanical Engineering majors Michael Bianco, Marie Gervasi, Josh Hawk, and Jason Lehrer. Tutors take phone calls on campus on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 6–9 p.m. and Latchum is present for each session to provide assistance.

Bianco came to the Homework Hotline with prior experience in education, working as a kindergarten teacher at an international school in Japan. “My experience having worked overseas in a bilingual setting helped me to develop the communication skills that are needed,” he explains. “As a former liberal arts major, I also have some degree of empathy with those who have the perception that they lack the natural ability to do math.”

The tutors attended training sessions during the the spring semester. The inaugural program focuses on math courses that lead to calculus, such algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

For Gervasi, the training has been challenging, but in a “good way.” She explained that she has always enjoyed tutoring and worked as a math tutor for international students in her high school. “The Homework Hotline has been helpful to me. Sometimes it’s hard for people to ask for help, but once they do, they are glad they called.”

Penn State Berks Homework Hotline pilot project is being funded by a three-year grant from Carpenter Technologies, Inc.

Building on its roots in the field of engineering, Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was the forerunner institution of Penn State Berks. WPI began as a training center for workers of Textile Machine Works in Reading and provided a solid background in engineering, as well as other technical fields of study. Its facilities were offered to Penn State for the establishment of a campus in 1958. Many leaders of local industry are graduates of WPI.

Penn State Berks offers a B.S. degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology and a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering, a B.S. in Information Sciences and Technology, and 18 other baccalaureate degree programs. Penn State Berks is the only college in Berks County to offer degree programs in engineering.

Rose-Hulman Institute Homework Hotline

The Penn State program is based on the Homework Hotline model designed by the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Founded in 1874, Rose-Hulman prepares students for careers in engineering, science and mathematics. The Penn State campuses have partnered with the institute to replicate aspects of its mathematics and sciences tutoring service.

Rose-Hulman’s Homework Hotline has helped more than 500,000 Indiana students since 1991 through tutoring via toll-free phone calls, emails and online resources. The service, supported by the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc., conducted 33,500 tutoring sessions during the 2014-15 school year.

“We hope this partnership with Penn State will continue to pave the way for other Homework Hotline programs throughout America,” said Susan Smith Roads, director of Rose-Hulman’s Homework Hotline and Learning Center. “The Homework Hotline uses Rose-Hulman students, who are gifted in math and science, and trains them to help secondary students to improve their problem-solving abilities and become more confident in their math skills. Other colleges could do this as well.”

For more information on the Penn State Homework Hotline, contact Scanlon at 610-396-6126 or via e-mail at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 02, 2016