The USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity has a lot to celebrate as its first full academic year on the Trojan campus draws to a close.
Opened in November 2010 as part of USC’s Division of Student Affairs, the Kortschak Center already has helped numerous students achieve academic success through assistive technologies, learning strategy workshops and one-on-one tutoring, among other services. Funding for the center came from the Kortschak family, which believes in the power of technology and education.
While Disability Services and Programs ensures equal access through academic accommodations — such as extra time on exams or interpreters — for students with legally documented disabilities, the services at the Kortschak Center are available to every undergraduate and graduate student at USC.
“The Kortschak Center is not about access, it’s more on the success side, more the icing on the cake,” said Eddie Roth, assistant dean and director of Disability Services and Programs and the Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity. “It’s a service to provide extra support for students. So you don’t have to have a documented disability to utilize the Kortschak Center.”
Many of the students who use the center do have documented disabilities, including sensory impairments, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, auditory or visual processing disorders, dysgraphia (writing impairment) or dyscalculia (math impairment). Others simply have a unique learning style, and they benefit from the resources available through the center.
Academic coaches, who are trained graduate students mostly from the USC Rossier School of Education, work directly with students who need learning assistance.
“The one-on-one approach is very important because every student’s learning style is different,” said Kristina Alvarado, learning specialist at the Kortschak Center. Some students are visual and others are auditory, she added. “Some are kinesthetic, too, meaning that they’re very hands-on. So many times, labs will help that type of learning.”
Power reading and time-management workshops supplement the personal coaching sessions. The center also provides access to educational psychologists, occupational therapists, neuropsychologists and learning specialists, as well as referrals to other campus resources.
In addition, the center features a computer lab with the latest assistive technology. The most popular tool is called Kurzweil, a software program that converts written words into speech. The center has installed the program on several computers in its own lab and in a room in Leavey Library, which is open 24 hours a day.
“[The program] allows students to comprehend the text better. They can see it, hear it and read it as well,” said Albert Mangagil, assistive technologist for the center.
For visual learners, the software program Imagination enables the creation of digital outlines and maps of ideas. A machine called the UbiDuo allows hearing-impaired students to communicate with people who don’t know sign language. For visually impaired or dyslexic students, the center has an Intel Reader that can photograph text and read it aloud.
Many students dictate their papers using Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a speech-to-text software that also has other useful applications.
“It’s more than the dictation software that a lot of people know it to be,” Mangagil said. “You can be completely without a keyboard and control the computer with your voice — from logging in to shutting down.”
So far, students using the center have reported increased confidence with their writing, motivation, organization, productivity and time management. They have gained greater awareness of their strengths, weaknesses and unique learning styles.
As one student explained: “My experience with the Kortschak Center has been nothing but positive, rewarding and beneficial. There is a special energy in this office. Everyone I encountered in the office played a major role in my path to beginning to feel like a better student and gaining a sense of relief.”