The History of PALS at Bates

PALS (Peer Assisted Learning in the Sciences) is Bates’ own version of a program called Supplemental Instruction (SI) that has been adopted at literally thousands of colleges worldwide.   It was brought home to Bates in 2003 by our current Dean of Faculty Pam Baker, as a result of Bates’ membership in the national Consortium for High Achievement and Success (CHAS).

Professor Baker was looking for a program that would increase retention of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses and majors, especially students from underrepresented groups and first-generation college students.  CHAS had identified Supplemental Instruction as a Best Practice for supporting inclusion and success of students from diverse backgrounds.   SI was a perfect fit for Bates’ egalitarian community of learners because attendance was voluntary, allowing students to decide for themselves whether the sessions helped them in the course.  

SI was developed by Dr. Deanna Martin at the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1973 (, as a means to increase performance and retention of medical school students there. The program targets academic courses with consistently high numbers of  “D” and “F” grades and withdrawals, and provides regularly-scheduled, out-of-class study/review sessions that are led by students’ peers.  Key elements of SI and of the Bates programs that have grown from it are:

  • Sessions are open to all students in a course; SI targets high-risk courses rather than high-risk students
  • SI integrates “what to learn” and “how to learn”, helping students develop learning strategies appropriate to the discipline
  • Students work collaboratively to master content and study skills
  • Sessions are peer-facilitated by a student who has successfully completed the course; SI leaders attend all class lectures, take notes, and act as models for those currently taking the course

Originally named PALG (Peer Assisted Learning Groups), the program at Bates was led in the first year by Joanna Lee, a founding member of CHAS, and then for six years by Grace Coulombe, Director of the Math and Statistics Workshop.   In 2010, our name changed to PALS and Seri Lowell, Writing Specialist in the Sciences, assumed leadership of the program.  In 2011-2012, PALS employed 20 student Peer Leaders and served core courses that enrolled a total of 1007 students in four science departments.