CSUN math students sit at a table and study on a tablet in a tutoring center.
CSUN students study in the math tutoring center in Live Oak Hall 1319. (Ringo Chiu / CSUN)

There was a particularly intimidating class on economics major Taline Babalians’ schedule during her first semester at CSUN — Math 103, Mathematical Methods for Business. It’s essentially calculus for business. 

“When I read the title of the class, I honestly freaked out,” said Babalians, who’s now a rising junior. “I was really concerned that I wasn’t going to do well. And then I walked into the class, and the first-week stuff was looking really funky. But then the next week, it all started clicking.”

Soon, she understood the concepts so well she could explain them to her classmates. She enjoyed demystifying math for others, so she applied for a job in one of CSUN’s math tutoring centers — and she got it.  

The centers provide a valuable service not only for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors but for hundreds of students across campus. Tutors such as Babalians help students wrap their heads around challenging concepts, review and drill before important tests, or solidify their knowledge of advanced theorems.  

“Everybody should have access to that help, to help them move forward,” Babalians said. 

It’s a service that CSUN will continue to provide, thanks to a gift from the 1994 Blommendahl Family Trust. The gift honors alumni Dale ’75 (Mathematics) and Sheila Blommendahl, who had rich careers in computer science and counseling, respectively. Later, they ran the company he founded, XYPRO Technology Corporation, focused on consulting and software in the banking and security industries. The trust provided $70,000 in endowed funds for tutors and $55,000 to boost the computing power in CSUN’s math tutoring centers. 

The trust also provided $125,000 to purchase equipment for engineering and computer science labs in the campus’ new Autodesk Technology Engagement Center, currently under construction.

About CSUN’s Math Tutoring Centers

CSUN students study at a table in a math tutoring center.
CSUN students study an a math tutoring center in Live Oak Hall 1319.

There are three math tutoring centers on campus: A center in Bayramian Hall 400 provides tutoring primarily for math courses for non-STEM majors, as well as computers for homework and placement testing for incoming students and students switching to a more math-intensive major. Another center in Live Oak Hall 1319 is tailored to STEM classes and upper-division math courses. Students study there for advanced classes such as calculus, abstract algebra, and statistics and probability. A third, more general center known as the SPOT is located in student housing building 21, where students can be tutored and work on one of 10 computers. Tutoring is also available over Zoom. 

Far-Reaching Impact

The Blommendahl gift replaces about 40 old computers in the Bayramian center and 10 more in the SPOT, easing the frustration of long loading times and glitches during activities such as making graphs. 

The extra computer power also makes a huge difference for students taking the timed placement tests. The placement tests touch many majors on campus, including nearly every STEM major, as well as exercise science and radiologic science majors. Students have three attempts for the placement test and can take advantage of tutoring before and between their attempts to increase their chances of placing into a higher mathematics course.

The stakes for the placement tests are high. Testing out of pre-calculus 1 and 2 can mean the difference in graduating in four years, instead of five. 

More than 600 students each year use the Bayramian center for placement tests, said Andrea Nemeth, the math department’s tutoring coordinator. The three centers receive about 8,000 visits per year combined. 

In a challenging funding environment, the Blommendahls’ support ensures that the university can continue to provide upper-level math tutoring, said Katherine F. Stevenson, chair of the Department of Mathematics in the College of Science and Mathematics. This helps students in advanced classes solidify their knowledge, as tutors and tutees. This is valuable practice in dissecting math procedures that can feel like learning a new language.

“It’s really essential we’re able to support our students — who are high-performing math majors, computer science majors, engineering majors — in these really difficult classes,” Stevenson said. 

To support CSUN’s Dale and Sheila Blommendahl Peer Mentoring Endowment or to create a fund of your own, please contact the CSUN Office of Development at (818) 677-7586 or development@csun.edu.

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