Rachel Brunson, Learning Center Assistant Director


Rachel Brunsonjpg

Rachel graduated from USF’s School of Education with a Master of Arts in Organization & Leadership (emphasis in Higher Education & Student Affairs) in 2013, after receiving her Bachelors degree in English from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2011. She is originally from Angels Camp, CA, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rachel is passionate about enriching student success and impacting student persistence through collaborative learning and peer leadership; she is grateful to work with The Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers to cultivate individualized learning environments for USF students. Outside of work, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, knitting, hiking, playing the piano, watching basketball, and traveling with family and friends.


A colleague recently sent me a presentation I delivered to my fellow academic skills coaches back when I was in graduate school. It was so funny to look back on these past materials (my PowerPoint slide theme/background was a questionable choice…haha). But, more importantly, it was an introspective moment. Exploring motivation with students is something I do on a daily basis through my work responsibilities in The Learning Center at USF. However, taking a look back on this presentation was a nice reminder to pause and reflect on the motivating factors I had back when I was a student.


As a student-athlete I aimed to be victorious every day. For me, winning applied beyond the basketball court, too. I maximized my college years by finding ways to develop both the skills and the motivation to be a lifelong learner. When I reflect on how I achieved this, I not only think about what helped me on my journey…I think about who.

This is where I must pay tribute to late Notre Dame de Namur University Professor Dr. Ardavan “Ardy” Davaran (more commonly known as “Dr. D”), who passed away in the second semester of my freshman year but had a profound impact on me during the courses I took with him. Dr. D had the ability to make each one of his students feel like the most important person on campus—like their success was the only thing that mattered—and he inspired me immensely with his passion for life, love, and learning. As an example, the rose (pictured below) was a gift from him on a day he had asked me to teach a lecture for him. At first, I thought to myself: there is no way I can do that…I am a student in this class! However, he made it clear that he believed in my abilities and I wanted to make him proud. I prepared a lesson plan and showed up early to get everything ready in the classroom. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and he was sitting in the back row. I thought I was “covering” the class since he was supposed to be at a doctor’s visit that day. He then clarified that he ended up changing his appointment because he “wanted to see me in action.” I will never forget the kindness in his smile and the validation I felt from that interaction. Ultimately, I attribute much of my motivation to help others succeed—inside and outside of the classroom—to the levels of challenge and support I received from this professor. He passed away shortly after that experience…and I hope he knew how much he meant to me.


The more I learned from Ardy and the rest of my professors, the more I learned about myself. I owe a great deal of my self-confidence and my desire to work in the field of academia to my college experiences, as I was encouraged to pursue the goals that most resonated with my spirit and to never stop believing in my dreams. Dr. D embodied the sentiment of the Sisters of Notre Dame, which was, “Teach them what they need to know for life.” This now guides my professional philosophies, and I try daily, even subconsciously sometimes, to follow in Dr. D’s footsteps and build meaningful relationships with students on our campus.


We take motivation seriously in The Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers (obviously)! It is intertwined with support and with validation. We know that students who are validated develop confidence in their ability to learn, experience enhanced feelings of self-worth, and believe they have something to offer the academic community. Ultimately, when we feel validated, we often perform better and our motivation tends to increase. Even if we don’t immediately see results, we may find what we need to still strive towards our goals if we have a sense of validation along the way. I was very fortunate to have many people “championing” for me during my college years.


If you are a student at the University of San Francisco, do not hesitate to visit The Learning Center for resources or assistance! We aim to support students in redefining themselves as learners, enhancing their current skills/strategies or developing new ones, setting concrete goals, making effective decisions, holding themselves accountable…and more. We can sit down 1:1 with you for Academic Skills Coaching appointments to help you get started and/or to stay on track. Come see us!


-Evans, N. J., Forney, D. E., Guido, F., Patton, L. & Renn, K. (2010). Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice. Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Janay Osborne, Peer Tutoring Graduate Intern


Janay Osborne is originally from Riverside, California but completed her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from University of California, Berkeley. During her undergraduate career she discovered a passion for student leadership, academic retention, and advocacy while working in the Multicultural Center and Diversity, Equity, and Campus Climate office. She considers herself a Leader by doing, listening, and learning. Janay’s favorite self-care activities include hiking, meal prepping, offering advice to friends, and creating diy boards on pinterest. When asked to write a blog post about education, her response was:

“Don’t measure your success with another person’s ruler”. These were the words my undergraduate college advisor shared with me my freshman year and have stuck with me 5 years later. Learning and success are normally discussed in mutually exclusive ways because the outcome or solution is emphasized instead. I strongly believe the process of learning is just as significant, if not more, than the result. Learning is a special process because each individual has a unique experience. At the same time, learning is not solely an individual act and allows opportunities for collaboration to exist. It’s important to rely on peers and mentors as resources to ensure your learning experience is meaningful while also not undermining your effort because someone else is “succeeding more”. When you are feeling overwhelmed or inadequate, ask yourself: Am I measuring my success with another person’s ruler?

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Jessica Arbitman, Peer-Led Team Learning Assistant Coordinator

The more experiences I have at USF working with other students, the more I learn about what it means to learn. Learning is a very individualized process because the way one student learns may not be the same way another student learns. In turn, making meaning of new knowledge is also a highly individualized process. There have been so many times when I’ve heard a student I’m working with say “I don’t study like that” or “I don’t learn that way,” so its hard to generalize one solid definition of learning. What I can say is that learning is an ongoing process and it’s something that we partake in throughout our entire life. We achieve mastery of this process when we are able to retain the information we are learning in a coherent, organized manner. However, how we achieve this coherence in thought varies from person to person.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Didem Ekici, Supplemental Instruction (SI) Program Coordinator


Learning is a complex process. Even though knowledge and learning is always linked together, I
believe that knowledge or the acquisition of knowledge do not always result in learning. In
today’s world, where the access of knowledge is so easy and quick, the complex phenomena of
learning is still being explored. If the acquisition of knowledge would be the learning, then
Google would be the best teacher ever. Or, is it already? 
It is not easy to define what learning is since the definition of learning might vary based on the
theories you interpret it. For example, according to the behaviorists, learning occurs only when
there is a change in your behavior and, therefore, it should be observable. Contrarily, for the
cognitivists approach, learning is an internal process that occurs in the brain and it supports the
idea that learning happens when people internalize the new knowledge. Lastly, according to
humanistic approach, learning happens both cognitively and affectively as a whole process.
No matter which theory of learning you believe, it is important to think about not
only how learning happens but also when learning happens. I believe that most of the learning
process occurs through interacting with other people. Even though most people underestimate
the value of interaction in learning, I think that while talking and listening, people process the
new knowledge, reflect on it and internalize it. That is why peer learning and collaborative
activities have become so popular in education field. Even in a regular day, when I talk to
people, I learn more about myself because this interaction enables me to raise some kind of
self-awareness. Likewise, when I listen to others, I learn from other people’s ideas and
experiences that I always appreciate. Especially, I believe that the more you interact with
people from diverse backgrounds the more you broaden your mindset and look at the things
from a different perspective. As I interact with more people from diverse backgrounds, it really
changes my perception and make me look at the things from a different perspective. Still,
looking at things from a point of view other than ours might be uncomfortable for some of us.
That is why it might take some time to get used to.
Therefore, I believe that the source of knowledge does not always have to be books, lectures or
academic resources. I think people are also a great source to learn from and make meaning of
knowledge. The only thing we need to do is to go beyond hearing and start listening.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Jamie Capetillo, America Reads Graduate Assistant and Project Success Coach

As I think about Learning, and making meaning of new knowledge I think of how learning applies in a broader concept to you during your time as students and myself as a student affairs practitioner, and how often we forget about the learning we do outside of the classroom. USF strives to “distinguish itself as a diverse, socially responsible learning community of high-quality scholarship and academic rigor sustained by a faith that does justice.” Many of the offices here at USF that provide support to you as students fall under the division of student life, whose mission is to “fully support holistic student development within a social justice framework centered in preparing students to be caring, socially responsible citizens in our global and local community.” So what does this mean, and why am I bringing this up?
During my time in undergrad part of my job was to give various diversity workshops to students, staff, and faculty on our campus back in Wisconsin. When we worked with students we always had them do an activity we called Five Minutes of Me. In this activity, we simply asked students to talk about themselves, and their identity; which identities were more salient, which did you not talk about, and how did that impact the way you moved through the world? When we did this with first years, it usually got quiet within two minutes of their time, I know it did for me when I was in that same spot. My mentor always told the students “throughout these next years in your life, you will be in a community that has so many different opportunities to learn; learn about your majors, your passions, but most importantly yourself. There are always programs going on that challenge you to get out of your comfort zone, and learn something new about yourself and the experiences of others. Learn about the complexities of our identities, the privileges we have, and how that fosters the envrionment we all create on our campus. Sometimes it’ll be hard and uncomfortable, but if by the time you graduate you still can’t fill these five minutes we have failed you and you have missed out on so much more that makes up your college education.”
I think about what she said a lot, and question all the time how I will help foster this holistic approach to learning when it comes to working with my students. I know for me it means that I will constantly commit to learning. When it comes to a social justice framework of student development, it means that I will never be done learning and educating myself about what is going on in the many communities that my students make up. But it’s also encouraging you as students to constantly be learning as well. Going to the different events being put on by the cultural centers, critical diversity studies department, performing arts & social justice department, art exhibits in Thacher Gallery, or the various student organizations on this campus. There are so many opportunities to learn on this campus, but even off campus. We are privileged to be in a city where there are always organizations putting on free events, or museums putting on free days for us to go and visit. Learning is ongoing, and it can happen everywhere. It’s taking what you’re talking about in the classrooms and applying it in your everyday life. It’s the conversations you have with your CASA advisor or your peers. These new experiences, attending events, talks, film showings etc… shape the person grow to become throughout your time here, it’s impacted by this new knowledge you acquire. How you choose to make meaning of all this new knowledge falls on you, but don’t forget you have so much support here waiting to have these conversations with you! So who are you, and what have you learned during your time at USF?

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Kristina Swift, Peer Tutor Lead

I think learning is a process that you are always continuing to take part in. There is always something new to learn, so it is an experience that never has an end.  Most of the time we associate learning with going to class or reading a textbook, but I think learning requires such a formal environment. A lot of my learning comes from my peers either from studying together or even at work.


As a math major, a significant amount of the new material presented in upper level courses requires a strong knowledge of the foundations of math.  Thus, a lot of the time making meaning of new knowledge takes the form of connecting what I am learning know, to what I was taught in my first semester as a math major.  This allows me to both have a better understanding of the foundational concepts and also see their importance and connections to higher level topics. Additionally, I’ve found that studying with my classmates and talking through the concepts really helps me to understand the new material, as you get a lot of different perspectives and takes on the information, allowing you to look at it from multiple angles.  Everyone also has their own way of explaining things, so hearing how others connect the information to previous content helps me to make more connections that I may have not otherwise thought of.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Haley Rietman, Learning Center Program Assistant

Haley grew up in San Diego, CA. She also attended college in Southern California at Chapman University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. During her time at Chapman, she worked in their events department and as a tutor, which allowed her to realize the passion she has for working in higher education.  Haley hopes that through her work in the Learning Center, she will be able to encourage students to achieve their academic goals which will in turn benefit their overall success.  Haley’s passions include traveling, exercising and reading and when she has spare time she likes to explore San Francisco.

As shown through the lens of previous writers on this topic, there are many ways one can define and interpret learning. In its simplest form, learning is the acquisition of new knowledge. Knowledge and learning go hand in hand. What is one without the other? Do we learn new knowledge, or does our knowledge allow us to learn? I believe it’s both.


The main concept that allows me to make meaning of new knowledge is keeping the mindset that there is always something more to learn. We should never allow ourselves to believe that we have learned everything there is to know. By staying in the mindset that I can always learn something new, I am constantly seeking out new information, or discovering how to use the knowledge I already have in a different way – in other words, I am learning. If one believes that they already know everything there is to know, they have closed off their minds to learning something new. Yes, many times learning is unconscious, however, if we strive to be conscious of our learning and seek out learning opportunities, we will be more successful in gaining new knowledge.


I encourage everyone to strive to be constantly learning. Deeper learning is not passive- take the initiative to learn by seeking out wisdom from others, dive into resources such as books, training courses, podcasts, the internet, etc. Set goals for oneself and keep track of the new knowledge you are learning- it might come as a surprise to you as to how much new knowledge you might gain when you are actually seeking it. Lastly, be sure to enjoy the process of learning. Too many times, the joy of learning is overtaken by the stress of preparing for a test or writing a paper but if we can appreciate the process of learning, it becomes a sort of classical conditioning where we are encouraged to keep learning.


Students at the University of San Francisco: I encourage you to utilize the services that the Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers have to offer. These services are not only offered to students who may be struggling in their courses but also to students who want to learn more and increase their academic skills.  The Learning Center strives to assist students who desire higher academic achievement and want to make new meanings of their own knowledge.


How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Rachel Brunson, Learning Center Assistant Director

Rachel graduated from USF’s School of Education with a Master of Arts in Organization & Leadership (emphasis in Higher Education & Student Affairs) in 2013, after receiving her Bachelors degree in English from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2011. She is originally from Angels Camp, CA, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rachel is passionate about enriching student success and impacting student persistence through collaborative learning and peer leadership; she is grateful to work in the Learning & Writing Center, which cultivates individualized learning environments for USF students. Outside of work, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, knitting, hiking, playing the piano, watching basketball, and traveling with family and friends.

When I was in graduate school I took a course called “Sociocultural Foundations of
Organization and Policy,” which introduced me to hermeneutics, the theory and methodology of
interpretation. I wrote my final paper on Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, who you may recognize if
I call him by his pen name, Dr. Seuss. At first glance the topic of this paper may seem trivial, but
studying his life and works with a Hermeneutic lens was as fascinating as it was insightful. All
fancy language aside, what I took away from this course is that learning is an ever-evolving
process and new knowledge is understood through our imaginations and our experiences.
Essentially, we do not learn new things in isolation from other things. As a mentor of mine
defines it, learning is “the manipulation of what you already know to make new
information meaningful.”

Sometimes talent surfaces in the most unexpected candidates. Sometimes those who are
believed in the least turn out to be the biggest surprise. Such is the case of “Dr. Seuss,” the boy
who lacked any ounce of ambition but who became one of the most well-known and imaginative
children’s story authors of all time. In high school Ted sharpened his skill of making things
awkward, misshapen, and bizarre, and his classmates voted him Class Artist and Class Wit.
During his junior year at Dartmouth College, Ted worked for the humor magazine and
discovered the “excitement of marrying words to pictures” (Fensch 2000:39). He also
determined that writing and editing a college newspaper or magazine seemed to be a better
education than attending his college classes. He approached graduation with no career in sight,
no job on the horizon, no plans, and with no real ambition to do anything. He was even voted
“least likely to succeed” (Fensch 2000:41). He then went to Oxford University in England, but
eventually dropped out and moved back to the US with no job, no prospects for a job, and
supposedly no talent for a job, either.

Dr. Seuss’s historical background plays a crucial role in understanding him—it was through his
artwork that he created a world with no rules, the sense of freedom he’d longed for since he was
a young child staring out of his bedroom window. Reading his texts through the prism of his
real-life experiences and attitudes reveals that true understanding is reached through one’s
imaginative abilities. Kearney (1998:149) says, “The symbolizing power of
imagination…transforms given meanings into new ones, [and] enables one to construe the
future as the ‘possible theatre of my liberty,’ as a horizon of hope.” The most obvious connection
with Dr. Seuss and Hermeneutics is the power of imagination.

Life can be seen as a great balancing act, whether that be due to different horizons fusing
together, a sense of identity loss or uncertainty, or other factors. The past and future are
negotiated in terms of the present, and this is all a by-product of imagination. Ironically enough,
one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous and widely gifted books, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” is based
on a cynical phrase that he picked up during a time when he was just beginning to explore his
imaginative abilities: right as he was leaving for college.

As you continue your journey, I invite you to reflect on these questions, as I try to do
Do you rely on past knowledge and/or experiences as you work to create new understanding?
Do you allow yourself space to learn from “mistakes” or situations that did not go as planned?
Do you imagine a successful future, or focus mainly on the tasks (or the stresses) of the
How can you sustain a “horizon of hope” and what reminders do you need in the ever-evolving
process of learning?
What resources can you use to enable you to make meaning of new knowledge?

If you are a student at the University of San Francisco, do not hesitate to visit The Learning
Center for resources or assistance! We aim to support students in redefining themselves as
learners, enhancing their current skills and talents, developing new skills and strategies, setting
concrete goals and make effective decisions, holding themselves accountable and practicing
self-regulation, challenging themselves to be their best. We sit down 1:1 with students for
Academic Skills Coaching appointments to help you get started and stay on track! Come see



-Kearney, Richard. Poetics of Imagining: Modern to Post-Modern. Fordham University Press, New York, 1998.

-Fensch, Thomas. The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss. New Century Books, Texas, 2000.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Tiffany Toor, Lead Speaking Center Coach


“Anything that you learn becomes your wealth, a wealth that cannot be taken away from you; whether you learn it in a building called school or in the school of life. To learn something new is a timeless pleasure and a valuable treasure. And not all things that you learn are taught to you, but many things that you learn you realize you have taught yourself.” –C. JoyBell C.


I use this quote to define learning as a system of personally growing and developing. Learning, much like growth and development, is a very personalized process and although we learn in various ways from various different people, we also learn from ourselves. Most importantly, through learning from ourselves, we learn about ourselves.


As a Speaking Center Coach, I find it very important to constantly learn from myself. Each and every coaching session provides me with the opportunity to think about what went well and what can be improved. In other words, I always reflect on which aspects of the session were valuable to the student, as well as what was not as effective. Through doing this, I learn about what I should continue doing in my coaching sessions and what I should try to change about my coaching style, which becomes a valuable tool for every subsequent appointment.


Additionally, this method of reflecting on what went well and what can be improved after every appointment is something I try to extend to each of the students I coach. I notice that one of the most common concerns of students is the anxiety they feel regarding public speaking. When it comes to tackling the apprehension of public speaking, one of the most useful techniques is to use self-reflection to learn more about yourself. By learning about your individual speaking style, the task of giving a public speech becomes far more comfortable since you already know what works well for you and what does not. This leads to an overall increase in confidence as a speaker.


To break down the concept of learning more about yourself as a means to reduce public speaking anxiety, try to keep in mind the following tip the next time you prepare for a speech: Practice actively!


To actively practice a speech means to stand up and say your speech out loud, preferably with someone watching you. At the end of running through the speech, ask yourself what content of the speech you feel you know, and what content of the speech you need to work on learning more. By mastering the content of your speech you instantly become less nervous to share your ideas in front of an audience, because the better you know your content, the easier it is to explain it to someone else.


Additionally, you can ask someone to watch you as you practice and point out any distracting mannerisms you may have had while presenting. You can then apply that knowledge in future speeches. For example, it was once pointed out to me that I would always play with my hair while presenting a speech. By learning what distracting mannerism I have, it allowed me to find ways to correct it. After learning this about myself, I make sure to always have my hair tied up any time I am giving a speech. Similarly, use active practicing to learn about yourself and then apply that knowledge to ensure you feel more confident going into your speech.


In conclusion, learning about yourself is one of the best ways to tackle public speaking anxiety. By knowing what works well for you and what does not, leads to feeling more confident at the time of your speech. Ultimately, the more confident you feel, the more confident you will present yourself and come across as.


How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Jessica Arbitman, Peer-Led Team Learning Assistant Coordinator


Learning is the process by which an individual acquires knowledge. However, learning and knowledge can take on many forms.  Learning might look like reading a book and storing facts in your memory bank to utilize later, but it may also look like rolling dough for the first time, or playing a chord on the guitar for the first time—keep in mind that these are just a few examples! Therefore, knowledge can be defined as not only the gain of factual/textual information obtained from reading a text, but also mastery of a skill by means of practice. It hence follows that making meaning of new knowledge can take on many forms as well.

As a chemistry major, the process of learning often entailed a lot of problem-solving to ensure that I can solve numerical problems. To make meaning of the knowledge, I was to be able to apply the underlying concepts in a lab. Similarly, for a student studying rhetoric, he or she might first learn rhetorical devices and then make meaning of them by employing them in their rhetorical analyses. All in all, being able to apply what you’ve learned to something in real life is one way to make meaning of knowledge. However, there is no correct way to learn and no correct way to make meaning of knowledge. It’s something that is unique to every learner and it’s something that every learner discovers through the process of learning.