Student Worker Spotlight: Q Center Tutors Sam Spak, Matteo McDonnell and Marc Moore

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Moore (left), McDonnell (center), and Spak (right) all have an impact at UConn’s Q Center (Author Photo)

Moore (left), McDonnell (center), and Spak (right) all have an impact at UConn’s Q Center (Author Photo)

When these three friends met during their shared classes freshman year, they probably didn’t realize that they’d all become Q Center tutors together one day too. Now all juniors, Sam Spak, Matteo McDonnell and Marc Moore work in the Q Center, helping students with their math and physics questions.  

“I really like physics and I like spreading my passion for it because I think it’s really cool,” McDonnell, a physics and math double major, said. “I would never think of myself doing anything else in life really, so I don’t know. It just seemed like a good use of my time. And also, $12 an hour isn’t terrible.”  

“They really needed physics tutors, and, I mean, I really like physics,” Moore, also a physics and math double major, said when asked how he got started at the Q Center. “My career plan is to go into academia in physics, so…I’d like to be a professor and do research and stuff and so, I don’t know, this was…a good lead-in to that.”  

Spak, a mechanical engineering and physics dual degree student, was the first to start working at the Q Center during the beginning of his sophomore year. One of the tutors who routinely helped Spak with his differential equations homework freshman year encouraged him to apply to be a tutor there. Once he started, Spak informed his friends that the Q Center was looking for more physics tutors, and so they applied.  

Though the friends don’t all work the same shifts, they do agree that they enjoy meeting new people and working with students who are dedicated to understanding the material.  

“The people who come in tend to be ones who are like trying to really understand the material, make sure they know it for the test or get their stuff down or they’re just trying to do the homework and see if they can get an answer or two,” Spak said. “Usually people are at least trying in their class, which is nice…it’s usually favored toward people who are at least attempting to learn the material.”  

“I’d say like 90 percent of the people there already have a good work ethic going in, and so they’re genuinely like wanting to learn,” McDonnell agreed.  

Sometimes, these tutors do have to deal with a difficult student who just wants them to provide the answers to homework questions.  

“I refuse to do that,” Moore said. “But—and this is very rare—but when you get that one person that really just—they’re there because they want their homework done and they don’t really care about the class…it’s extremely difficult because they don’t care and that’s really hard to make them care.” 

Spak and McDonnell agreed, and Spak also noted that it can be difficult when students seek help for a class that he himself hasn’t taken. It’s nothing the resourceful tutor can’t fix by taking a look at the student’s textbook though.  

The tutors find balancing work, classes, research and Physics Club meetings (they all hold officer positions in the club) to be pretty simple. Their activities relate to each other, and the three friends truly enjoy them.   

Spak noted how the job forced him to make his schedule work, stating, “If I’m only doing like six hours a week, it’s six hours I would spend—” 

“Playing video games,” McDonnell interjected jokingly.  

“It’s not like I can’t make it work,” Spak finished. The tutors also stated that their job is helpful in that it reinforces the concepts that they’ve already learned in physics and math.  

The tutors agree that the best part of their job is getting a student excited about learning the material. McDonnell said that he enjoys teaching students that they are not just an “algebra machine,” that there are higher-level concepts to which the basic material they are learning in introductory classes can be applied.  

“I definitely find tutoring to be very satisfying…Some of the best moments that I’ve had recently is when you’re able to get a student not only to understand something but [to be] really excited about it,” McDonnell said. “There’s a great amount of satisfaction that you get out of that, and I would like to see if I could have that in my life in the future somehow.” 

McDonnell looks forward to attending graduate school for physics and hopes to incorporate some sort of science outreach into his future pursuits. Moore seeks to become a professor, but Spak isn’t too sure about his plans. No matter where life takes them, though, the three concur that their jobs as Q Center tutors have taught them how to teach all different types of students and given them, as Spak said, a “diverse experience to draw from” when considering future endeavors.  


Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.   

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