The University of Arizona

UA SALT Center Serves Students with Learning Challenges

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications | August 15, 2011

The center began serving the needs of three self-identifying students with learning disabilities in 1981 and now serves more than 550 students each semester.

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Serving the needs of students diagnosed with learning and attention challenges since 1981, the University of Arizona's Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques, or SALT, Center has become a national model. 

The center is under the direction of Robin Wisniewski, who looks to bring her solid research background to continue providing innovative and best-practice strategies to promote achievement of individuals with learning and attention challenges.

Wisniewski holds bachelor's degrees in business and psychology, she holds a master in education degree and is an education specialist in school psychology. She also has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, and an equivalency doctorate in school psychology. She is also a licensed psychologist trained in clinical and school psychology.  

The center, through a fee-based, individually tailored and integrated approach, provides students with resources including a strategic learning specialist who designs an individualized tutoring, writing and learning plan that includes progress monitoring.

The learning specialist provides the student with information on strategies to approach course work; recommendations for tutor usage; and, as appropriate, referrals to other UA campus resources that include an array of workshops geared toward their individual academic needs.

"The students come to us with a lifetime of challenges as they have experienced it and from that we are able to tailor services to help them succeed," said Rudy Molina, assistant director, external relations and research.

As the semester progresses, the learning specialist will use information gathered from weekly discussions to evaluate the student's progress, needs and outcomes and adjust the learning plan accordingly.

Additionally, students have the opportunity to use the SALT computer lab (complete with an array of assistive technology) and/or "drop in" to either the SALT Writer's Lab or the SALT Math and Science Lab, both staffed with highly trained certified tutors.

Beyond learning strategies, the center also works to teach self advocacy.

"Research shows that students with learning and attention challenges are successful in college when they have self-determination along with strategies, collaboration and individualized support. The self determination piece is where we focus on helping students get to independence – to learn to become advocates for themselves and their needs, to transition from high school students to successful college students." Wisniewski said.  

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SALT is a part of Student Learning Services within the Division of Student Affairs. Student Learning Services houses four academic support units including SALT, the Think Tank, CATS Academics and the Testing Office. They work together to provide comprehensive educational opportunities to foster student success.

"We also partner with faculty and admissions to create awareness of our services to facilitate access to college and college achievement," Wisniewski said.

Outside of the UA, the center partners with community-based organizations that facilitate learning and enrollment in higher education to create awareness of the program and the potential for success in higher education.

The program began as a part of the UA's Student Resource Center serving three students at Old Main.

"As early as 1981, the UA began identifying students who had extra needs who didn't fit into the mainstream learners' needs. At the time, there was a boom in research and theory that showed that students were more diverse learners than how traditional education had been structured. As the research became available, education and its practice began to change," Wisniewski said.

By 1993, the center had its first incoming class – a cohort of students who entered the SALT program at the same time. The UA's history and successful experience in serving the educational needs of these students expanded, as did the number of self-identifying students enrolled as cohorts, which led to the SALT Center became a freestanding, fee-based department.

In the fall of 2001, thanks to the generosity of families and alumni who believed in the center's mission, the SALT Center moved to its own 16,000-square-foot building where more than 550 students are served per year.

The alumni of the SALT Center are a testament to the program's success.

Added Wisniewski: "We have students who went on to graduate school, medical school and law school who might not have succeeded in higher education without the services of the SALT Center. Those access services see the value of this program and give back. They help to provide scholarships for others who may not be able to pay for our comprehensive services."