Two guided study group leaders earn award from Penn State Learning

February 24, 2020

UNIVERSTIY PARK, Pa. — The Fall 2019 recipients of the Penn State Learning Outstanding Guided Study Group Leader Award are Kara Anderson and Michael Durkin. Both received a certificate of recognition and a stipend of $500.

The award was established by a guided study group (GSG) leader alumnus to acknowledge the contribution of leaders to students’ academic success. It recognizes leaders’ commitment to creating and sustaining a welcoming and academically supportive learning community for the course to which they are assigned. Having recently had success in the course themselves, these peer leaders work closely with course instructors and are employed to attend class sessions and prepare materials for optional drop-in study sessions and exam reviews in which they help students hone their problem-solving skills, discover gaps in their knowledge and fill those gaps as they prepare for major exams.

Kara Anderson is a junior majoring in middle-level math education. For two semesters, she has been the guided study group leader for Math 200 and 201. The courses are taught by Darla Forsha-Simpson, associate teaching professor of mathematics, who said that Anderson creates all examples and PowerPoints for the study sessions, in addition to preparing quiz and exam reviews for each graded assessment.

Headshot photograph of Kara Anderson

Kara Anderson

IMAGE: Penn State

“Kara schedules these reviews with me at the beginning of the semester to ensure a timely process,” Forsha-Simpson said. “Each week she puts announcements on Canvas to remind students of upcoming sessions. Math is difficult for many people, and these sessions allow them an opportunity to get individual help and be successful.”

Forsha-Simpson said that she often sees Anderson working patiently with students before and after class: 

“It's obvious that she has a relationship with students, especially those who regularly attend her sessions. Several students in Math 200 told me they were taking Math 201 because they knew that Kara would be there to help them be successful again. My students know that Kara cares about their concept mastery and is committed to helping them learn. She always draws the answers out of students by asking them questions. Her patience is admirable, much better than mine! She is always smiling creating a happy classroom environment. It is very difficult to get around to all the groups myself during class, and her help is immeasurable. Before I utilized the flipped classroom, the GSG leader simply observed my lectures, but Kara voluntarily assists students’ learning. She is amazing!”

Michael Durkin is a junior majoring in finance with a minor in economics. He has been a guided study group leader for ECON 102 Principles of Microeconomics for three semesters. 

Headshot photograph of Michael Durkin

Michael Durkin

IMAGE: Penn State

Dave Brown, director of undergraduate studies and professor of economics, teaches between 600 and 1,100 ECON 102 students each semester.

“This is a large task, and requires the help of graduate TAs, grading assistants, and course tutors,” Brown said. “As I teach these courses, I’ve been assigned tutors before. They have all performed their job well. However, Michael has gone above and beyond. He created his own materials and fielded student questions during these [sessions and exam reviews], without my guidance or supervision. These were well-received, with more than 300 students in attendance.”

Brown reported that Durkin’s steady presence has been a big help to him and his students.

“Michael attends every class, gets there early, sits near front and often greets me every day when he enters. Many students who visit my office hours mention that they attend Michael’s tutoring sessions, and they all have good things to say about him. Due to my large classes, I’m always a little nervous when I’m assigned a new tutor. The material is tough sometimes, there are many students, and it is a big-time commitment to attend class and host tutoring reviews. However, I was certainly glad to have Michael assigned to my sections these last three semesters.”

To learn more about how to give to Penn State Learning, visit In addition to providing no-charge guided study groups supporting a wide range of courses, Penn State Learning also provides tutoring in mathematics, science, world languages, public speaking and writing.

Questions may be directed to Brendaly Drayton,

Penn State Learning is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated February 27, 2020