Student Team Learning Program Wins State Recognition

A UT Dallas program that boosts academic success with student-to-student study teams has won a 2011 Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The award recognizes contributions toward one or more of the goals of the “Closing the Gaps by 2015” initiative adopted by the Coordinating Board. The initiative has four key goals: to increase student participation, student success, academic excellence and research.


The Peer-Led Team Learning program at UT Dallas is part of the GEMS Center in the Office of Student Success and Assessment.

The Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) program at UT Dallas is part of the GEMS Center in the Office of Student Success and Assessment.  GEMS, short for Gateways to Engagement, Mastery and Success, was created in 2008 to improve student learning in math and science.  

The GEMS Center offers individual appointments, group workshops, short and semester-length courses, and other strategies to help students achieve their goals.  On average, 87 percent of those who participated in PTLT at UT Dallas achieved A, B or C grades in chemistry, physics and math, compared with the average of 72 percent of non-PLTL students.

“Students who participate in PLTL not only reap the benefits of higher engagement with their course material, but they also connect socially with peers who have the prior knowledge, experience and success in a given subject area,” said Dr. Sheila Piñeres, who oversees the Office of Student Success and Assessment and is dean of undergraduate education at UT Dallas.

“They also become more self-sufficient in managing their learning behaviors, approaches to group study, and time management.”

Freshman biochemistry major Monila Khadka said the PLTL calculus group she’s studied with this fall has been invaluable.

“It helps to work with someone my age who understands me and the way I learn,” Khadka said. “We relate like a family and talk to each other outside of class. As a freshman, I didn’t know a lot of people, and PLTL really helped with that. It’s an environment where we’re all helping each other.”  

Piñeres said 94 percent of first-time-in-college students who participated in PLTL remained in school from fall 2009 to fall 2010, compared with 84 percent of non-PLTL students.   

She added that student-to-student teaching and learning initiatives, such as peer-led learning and supplemental instruction, are nationally recognized means of engaging students, especially in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

Nujeen Zibari is a sophomore biology major and a PLTL leader for calculus.  She led a group of eight this semester.

“It’s been a real gift to be able to work with these students,” Zibari said.  “Calculus is a subject that’s hard to learn, but in carving out the extra time to be here, outside of their classes and other activities, well, it’s obvious they really want to learn this material.”

The Star Award ceremony was held in early November in Austin. For this year’s competition, the Coordinating Board received 78 applications and honored six winners. Selection was based on the recommendations of a nine member panel that included three Coordinating Board members, three Texas business, education and community leaders, and three out-of-state education experts.

Groups eligible for the award included public and independent institutions of higher education and public and private pre-K-12 schools and districts.

Other winners included the Houston Community College System, IDEA Public Schools, The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, The University of Texas Medical Branch and Uplift Education.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].