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LA Mark shows paper to students in lecture

Spotlight on the Learning Assistant Program

13 March 2024
Professor Amine talks with learning assistant Jood
Amine Benkiran, associate teaching professor of mathematics, speaks with learning assistant Jood Mohseni.

The college’s Learning Assistant (LA) Program provides students with an opportunity to work in the classroom and hone their communication and leadership skills in a course they have successfully completed. LAs are peers who work as a team with faculty to assist with active learning in the classroom. 

LAs receive training in evidence-based teaching practices and are focused on student learning rather than assessment. They are assigned to facilitate small group activities during lectures, recitations, or labs. They can also offer help outside the classroom, such as in review sessions and office hours, but they are not responsible for administering exams or evaluating students’ performance. Instead, they are peer leaders and learning coaches. 

“It’s been an incredibly useful tool and resource for our students and our faculty members,” said Jennelle Malcos, director of the Learning Assistant Program. “It gives instructors the opportunity to do more active learning and to have the freedom to choose pedagogical practices not limited by class size.” 

Since its launch in 2012, the program has grown from 81 learning-assistant positions in five courses to 839 positions in more than 44 courses spanning the Eberly college’s seven departments in the 2022–23 academic year. Many courses with LAs are key “service” courses that fulfill prerequisite requirements for students in many majors across Penn State. 

“Students love working with our learning assistants,” Malcos said. “Oftentimes, they see the peer as someone who is approachable and has experience to share with them—not only within the class, but also on things like careers, applying to graduate school, or getting a job.” 


LA Program by the numbers:

  • 839 learning assistants supported 44 courses in the college during the 2022–2023 academic year.
  • 8,000 to 10,000 undergraduate students are impacted by the Learning Assistant Program each year.
  • 1,000 to 1,500 students take advantage of LA study sessions for math courses each week. 
  • More than 250 learning assistants are devoted solely to math courses in the fall 2023 semester.
  • Students who attended office hours with learning assistants scored 20 percent higher on exams in one pre-calculus course.

Several faculty members and learning assistants shared their experiences with the program:

Amine Benkiran stands outside
Amine Benkiran. Credit: Michelle Bixby

“It’s naive to think that we go to the classroom and we deliver the perfect lecture and that everybody's going to leave having a full understanding of what was covered. If you have a large class, it's very difficult to attend to all the questions and to reach the students who are maybe struggling in silence and have that fear of approaching a faculty with a question. If students see a fellow that they can relate to, an undergraduate student that looks like them and has had similar experiences, they might feel a little bit more at ease than asking their questions.” 

Amine Benkiran, associate teaching professor of mathematics whose courses integrate learning assistants 

Jood Mohseni wearing sweater stands outside
Jood Mohseni. Credit: Michelle Bixby

“I always like to remind my students that I'm also a student. That way they feel more connected to me. It's nice to see that they're getting the content that I struggled with.  

Being an LA has enhanced my teamwork and communication skills. Engaging with other LAs from more advanced math classes and with the faculty who are always willing to help has made me a better student and has bettered my understanding of concepts in my math courses.” 

Jood Mohseni, a third-year student majoring in Environmental Systems Engineering and serving as a learning assistant in a section of the course Math 141: Calculus with Analytic Geometry II  

Mark Puthenpurayil
Mark Puthenpurayil. Credit: Michelle Bixby

"This is my fourth semester as an LA, and what keeps me coming back is seeing how my help affects the students. I love to see the growth in their knowledge and see them continue in their major and even go back into the program themselves as LAs for the next set of students.   

I didn’t always want to become a professor, but after helping out my peers in the freshman dorms and then joining the Learning Assistance program, I realized just how much I really enjoyed teaching, and I decided that becoming a professor was actually the path I wanted to take.” 

Mark Puthenpurayil, a third-year undergraduate majoring in chemistry and math and serving as a learning assistant for Chem 210: Organic Chemistry and an introductory seminar for chemistry majors 

The Eberly College of Science’s Learning Assistant program has been generously supported by alumni Mark Becker and John and Mary Furniss.