Sharpening Your “Axe” Through Academic Support Services

By Vickie Moller, student, Long Island Center-Hauppauge Unit and 2011-2012 student representative, Student Affairs Committee

April 18, 2012

For nearly a century and a half since he first spoke it, Abraham Lincoln’s adage, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” has probably been more often marveled at and quoted than it has been applied. And we, as students, if we are honest, will have to admit that often we do not submit ourselves to the wisdom of this crucial precept. We pursue our studies without pursuing essential preparation to effectively complete those studies.

Intelligence does not consist of academic prowess alone, it also involves identifying our limitations—the places we lack knowledge or need reinforcement, correction, clarity. The smart person identifies his need; the wise person goes after the resources available to him to fill that need. Rather than ambiguously slugging along (sometimes for years), he recognizes that the time he spends sharpening his blade will ultimately result in skillfully addressing his work with clear, decisive precision.

As independent and distance learners outside the parameters of traditional classrooms, SUNY Empire State College has made a broad range of academic support services available to us through one-to-one tutoring, electronic delivery and local workshops to ensure our academic success. We can begin to “sharpen our axe” by critically assessing our work in light of them. In doing so, each of us will certainly find ways that we can benefit by integrating them into our programs of study. Consider the following:

Writing coaches are available weekly at several of SUNY Empire State College’s centers. Students can also schedule a one-to-one tutoring session with a writing coach by making an appointment through their unit’s secretary, or by contacting their local director of academic support.

Weekly math workshops and private math tutoring sessions are also available at each of the college’s centers. To find out if math support is available at your center or unit, contact the director of academic support.

Elluminate student training allows students to participate in Web-based tutorials/workshops. They are notified via email of any workshops and sent a link which allows them to participate remotely.

Smarthinking provides free online tutorial service in mathematics and statistics (basic math to calculus), Spanish (introductory to intermediate levels), writing (undergraduate to graduate levels and ELL/ESL writing), science (introductory undergraduate level biology, chemistry, and physics) and business (introductory undergraduate level accounting, economics, and finance). Some tutorials are available 24 hours per day. For more information, go to

Each October the Student Academic Conference brings together students, faculty and staff from every geographic and academic area of the college. Students present their academic and creative work through panel discussions, workshops, multimedia presentations, poster displays and artwork in a community atmosphere of learning and celebration.

Additionally, there are numerous resources available to students on MyESC, including:

A state-of-the-art online library with, among many other resources, full-time librarians available to answer reference questions; databases containing millions of full-text journal articles; reference e-books; digital images; videos; library skills webinars and access to materials through other libraries:

A wide range ofacademic support tips and tutorials are available to students, including academic research, computer literacy and resources, critical thinking, independent learning, note-taking and stress management: Learning Support Home Page\StudySkills

A site dedicated to academic integrity, including teaching students how to avoid plagiarism:

Academic support services are not something to be reluctantly appended to our programs of study as “extra help” or reserved for times of special “need”. Rather, they are valuable tools serving as an integral part of a successful educational experience at every level.

“Academic support is for everyone because everyone can revise what they have written; everyone needs a second set of eyes and needs to have a conversation about their work,” said Mildred Van Bergen, director of academic support for the Long Island Center. “A well-written paper can be made extraordinary, even suitable for publication.”

Van Bergen remembers a time when, as a student, there were no workshops and she couldn’t make an appointment with a learning coach or call an academic support person or go online and use Smarthinking.

“These are things students should really take advantage of; they are so beneficial and they are free—they are unique and powerful and useful,” Van Bergen said.

And the Office of Academic Support is working hard to continue to develop collegewide academic support initiatives. SUNY Empire State College’s eight directors of academic support are developing a comprehensive collegewide strategy that includes regularly reaching out to students in order to connect them with the specific services that will enhance their educational experience and ensure their academic success. The team of directors is also in the process of planning community events designed to bring students together to discuss their studies and to learn from each other.

For more information about the full range of academic support services, including current workshops, and how they can benefit you, contact your center’s Office of Academic Support.

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Article Contributors
  • Danielle Benedict
  • Helen Edelman
  • Justin Giordano
  • David Henahan
  • Susan LeClair
  • Tom Mackey
  • Mark Miyake
  • Vickie Moller
  • Sarah Morehouse
  • Rhianna Rogers
  • Pat Ryan
  • Jandet Shideler
  • Betty Wilde-Biasiny

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