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Athletes make impact in the classroom

March 19, 2009

Attaway Lutes: Peer Tutors

On any given weekday afternoon you will find James Crosetto and Lexie Miller engrossed in athletic endeavors.

Look for Crosetto on the tennis courts hitting reaction volleys or working up a sweat while playing a challenge match against a men’s tennis teammate. Nearby, Lexie Miller puts in countless practice laps, aimed at preparing her for the track and field season and her specialty, the 3000-meter steeplechase.

For Crosetto and Miller, participating in intercollegiate athletics at PLU means living out a passion, and it is as important a part of their lives as their academic pursuits. And make no mistake, academics is a major part of both of their lives.

Crosetto and Miller are two of approximately 32 peer tutors who work for the Academic Assistance Center. Additionally, they are two of five current tutors who also participate in intercollegiate athletics. (The others are Dan Hibbard, track and field, who tutors in biology; Kat Jenkins, women’s crew, who tutors in math and physics; and Luke Weinbrecht, track and field, who tutors in geoscience.)

For 35 years PLU’s peer tutoring program has aimed to “provide academic support for students at all academic levels, from those striving for an ‘A,’ to those hoping to get through a class with a passing mark, and everywhere in between,” says director Leslie Foley ’88.

All tutors must first be approved by the department in which they tutor, and then they are trained by Foley in a one-credit course that meets College Reading and Learning Association guidelines. For Crosetto and Miller, both CRLA certified, training to become a tutor has similarities to training for athletic success.


A smile comes easily to the face of James Crosetto, a senior from Eatonville, Wash., who is majoring in computer science and computer engineering. The tall, blond-headed Crosetto is justifiably proud of the classroom acumen that has led to a 3.88 grade point average. His natural propensity for all-things computer is buoyed by a strong work ethic. “I really enjoy it, so that probably helps,” Crosetto said. “But I like to think that I put in a lot of hard work.”

He’s just as proud, however, of his success on the tennis court as a four year varsity performer for the men’s tennis team. That success, he would admit, is due more to hard work and passion than to natural athletic ability.

In his first three years on the tennis team, James has been on the cusp of establishing his place among the top six singles players. He has compiled a career 14-3 singles record at PLU, including an 8-2 record in 2007. He is 9-9 in doubles play. His senior season figures to be much like the first three – intermittent appearances in singles and doubles play depending on the competition. After all, it’s tough work breaking into the top six of the regionally ranked team.

For Crosetto, the pursuits of academic and athletic excellence are a normal part of life, and his role as a peer tutor fits into that lifestyle. Crosetto started as a peer tutor in the fall of 2007. Leslie Foley was looking for a new computer science tutor and Crosetto was recommended by the department. For the last year and a half he has tutored students taking introduction to computer science and data structures. Those students can find Crosetto in the computer science lab five hours during the week. “It’s not a huge time commitment and it makes it easier to work it in with tennis,” Crosetto admits.

“(Being a peer tutor) creates more pressure and takes more of my time, but it fits really well with my major,” he said. “When I’m helping people, I get to see a lot of problems that they run into, and helping solve them gives me a better understanding of the subject. For me it’s a good experience, as well as being a job.”

Crosetto’s main tools on the tennis court are a solid forehand and a fast serve. His most important tools while tutoring are patience and a good sense of humor. “If people are getting frustrated with their assignment, just being able to lighten up the mood helps a lot,” he said.

Because the tennis team plays upwards of 25 matches during a season, there have been occasional conflicts between Crosetto’s tutoring schedule and his tennis matches. But the conflicts are easily resolved. “I’ve never really had to decide between one or the other,” he said.

That is fortunate, because Crosetto’s passion for being a student is matched only by his passion for being an athlete. At PLU, both those passions are satisfied.


For an athlete who spends so much time running anything but a straight line, Lexie Miller is about as straightforward a person as you’ll ever meet. Miller, who graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma, has been a member of the women’s cross country and track and field teams throughout her four years at PLU.

Like Crosetto, Miller has been a peer tutor since 2007, and was recommended for the position by a faculty member. She tutors math students at nearly every level. Miller, who maintains a 3.91 grade point average, can be found in the math lab four nights per week for a couple of hours each night.

The lanky Miller pursues running the same way she does mathematics, with equal measure purpose and success. Throughout her cross-country career she has been among PLU’s top runners, and last spring during the track and field season she shattered by nearly 18 seconds the school record in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, running 11:30.73. Her goal is to break the 11-minute barrier, and that would put her within range of qualifying for the NCAA Division III national meet. “If I break 11 (minutes), I might as well go for nationals,” Miller said.

Miller says patience is most important to her while tutoring. It is because mathematics comes so easily to her that she is a tutor, and yet it is that very quality that can cause her frustration with students who give up too easily on a problem.

“The biggest thing is learning patience, because not everybody has the same learning style and not everybody understands it the same way that I do,” Miller said. “I have to look for new ways to look at a problem. I have to explain the method behind it, which has really challenged me and made me a better student.”

Miller has, for the most part, broken her life into a simple equation: athletics plus school equals one day. “Twenty-four hours in a day is plenty for those two. Some other things can suffer,” she said.

Miller puts it another way: “Running for me is like a study break. Everybody needs a few hours a day away from the books.”