USC Kortschak Center works to improve students’ academic success

Described as a “hidden gem,” the center offers coaching services that could alleviate students’ midterm season stress.

On the third floor of the Student Union lies the Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity, a space open to students in need of stress management services and a relaxing environment — a space where on any given day you can find students and staff building Lego inventions and creating mind maps on the walls.

The center’s main service is their academic coach program, where students have weekly one-on-one meetings with coaches to discuss their academic progress, goals throughout the semester and any areas of improvement.

While the center is open for academic help all year, this type of resource could be especially useful for students during midterms, said Kortschak Center Director Julie Loppacher.

“We recognize that when students are really stressed out, they often think that the solution is to spend more time on that thing,” Loppacher said. “But the research and science say to engage your brain differently. Give yourself some breaks and you will actually become more efficient.”

Sofia Rios-Dominguez, a senior majoring in cinema and media studies, said she began going to the center because she was having trouble keeping up with her class load and other extracurriculars.

“I think the Kortschak Center is really unique in that it’s very specifically tailored to the individual’s educational and extracurricular experience,” Rios-Dominguez said. “I noticed last year that I’d been struggling with time management and juggling all of my commitments and I felt like the center could offer me the guidance that I needed.”

Star McCown, a junior majoring in creative writing, has been using the center’s services for the past month. She said she feels less anxious as a result of her coaching.

McCown specifically cited the Pomodoro technique as a useful tool in helping her study. The technique breaks up studying into 25-minute chunks with short five minute breaks in between; after two hours, students can take a longer break.

"I think I've just been more comfortable with holding myself accountable and I'm not so hard on myself anymore,” McCown said.

Aside from the academic coaching, the center offers resources like a quiet computer lab, study room and creativity lounge, complete with brainteasers, coloring books, puzzles, yoga mats and Therabands, according to front desk assistant and senior Hana Khan.

"Sometimes when you go to a library, it kind of feels like a jail,” Khan said. “Here, it's a really nice calmer area and environment."

The center also offers individual academic guidance, drop-in hours, creative workshops and support groups for undergraduates, such as first-generation students, Rios-Dominguez said. One upcoming workshop is a pumpkin painting event, where students can get into the Halloween spirit and momentarily take their mind off their studies.

While the center engages in a holistic approach for each student that takes into consideration how their mental health contributes to their academic success, they do not offer clinical therapy or counseling services, Khan said.

Khan, who has worked at the center since freshman year, said she has seen students benefit from the center’s academic services firsthand.

"Usually when people do come in for services, they will come in the next year and say they want to do it again, they’ll refer their friends,” Khan said. “I think it's a hidden gem for people who do know about it."

The center was founded in 2010 when a $10 million-dollar gift was given to USC by Walter and Marcia Kortschak. According to an article posted by USC News shortly before the official opening, the gift was the “largest received by Student Affairs in university history.”

While the center is open to all students, it was specifically designed to provide “innovative services to students with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other identified learning differences.”

“Often in academic settings, the needs of those students is secondary,” Loppacher said. “Here, those needs are primary. As a result, of course, we are uniquely qualified to serve all students.”

Since Kortschak is not well-known across USC’s campus, Khan said staff members are trying to spread awareness through advisers, resident assistants and faculty in the hopes that they will send students in their direction when needed. Kortschak staff also visit classes, present to campus groups and work with the Center for Excellence in Teaching to promote awareness.

Loppacher said that she has seen the center’s popularity among students grow substantially within just the last year and will continue to do so.