This Student-Success Program UMKC Invented 50 Years Ago is a Global Game Changer

Supplemental Instruction helps universities around the world
Biology students in SI

University of Missouri-Kansas City junior Grace Miller remembers taking Computer Science 101 last year and feeling apprehensive. She’d never coded before.

But then Miller was introduced to Supplemental Instruction, called SI for short, a student-led learning approach UMKC invented 50 years ago. Not to be confused with peer tutoring that’s typically one on one and by assignment, SI is built upon collaborative learning. Research shows that students who study in groups retain 2.5 times more than students who study on their own.

“SI focuses on reinforcement of knowledge,” says Miller, who is majoring in media, art and design. “SI also fosters connection with other students and takes away the loneliness from studying.”

SI proved successful for Miller because not only was she advised she should be an SI leader, she received a 97% in the course. Indeed, a major bragging point of SI is that participating in sessions will boost your grade a half letter to a whole letter.

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Grace Miller
UMKC junior Grace Miller is an SI leader and participant.


History and global reach

The International Center for Supplemental Instruction is based at UMKC and offers SI resources, training and accreditation to universities throughout the U.S. and around the world.

“I believe that SI has made such an impact in higher education because of the community the collaborative learning environment creates,” says Jessica Pearson, executive director of the International Center for Supplemental Instruction and director of UMKC Academic Support and Mentoring. “Students do not just learn course content and study skills, but they also develop friendships and lasting connections with their classmates and campus.”

In 1973 at UMKC, then-doctoral student, Deanna Martin, created SI out of a critical university need to retain students, keep academic standards high and help students reach their goal of graduating. Martin piloted the first SI program in a human anatomy class at the UMKC School of Dentistry. SI had elements that were attractive to faculty and students. With a budget increase, SI was placed in additional courses.

Other universities started their own SI programs and by 1981, the U.S. Department of Education named SI an Exemplary Education Practice. UMKC has trained faculty and staff from more than 1,500 institutions, including other universities in Missouri and Kansas, from 34 countries around the world.

“I take great pride in the fact that SI originated at UMKC and has now made a significant global impact,” says Kristi Holsinger, Ph.D., senior vice provost for student success at UMKC. “While data clearly demonstrates the positive effects of SI participation on students’ performance in specific courses, its far-reaching influence on nurturing enduring skills, such as effective learning strategies, critical thinking abilities and enhanced study habits, is truly immeasurable.“

Key components and results

Programs around the world share fundamentals.


  • Targets historically difficult courses, those that have a high percentage of D, F and withdraw
  • Does not identify struggling students; all students in each course are highly encouraged to attend SI sessions.
  • Is voluntary, and students can choose when they want to attend.
  • Employees are trained extensively, and the program supervises SI leaders throughout the semester.

Among the accredited universities is Georgia College and State University, which this year celebrated its 10th anniversary of SI and nearly a third of the university’s students use it. In the spring of 2023, 50% of Georgia College students attended SI sessions for classes that are difficult to pass. Of the students who attended SI sessions, only 11% dropped, withdrew or failed the class compared to 27% of those who did not participate in SI. 

Purdue University uses SI and says this about the approach: “SI is a low-stakes environment (you won’t be graded!), so don’t be embarrassed to make a mistake or be confused. The leader will use several tools to give you the opportunity to think more critically about course content and develop a deeper understanding of how different concepts connect to one another. This could include small group discussions, games and other hands-on activities to make content practice more fun. Although the leader might not directly answer a question you ask, they will help you to find the answer yourself, which in the long run will be more beneficial to your learning.”

SI now at UMKC
Shekhar Gugnani
UMKC sophomore Shekhar Gugnani is an SI leader and participant.

Sophomore Shekhar Gugnani, who is pursuing the six-year B.A./M.D. from the UMKC School of Medicine, says SI is his favorite part of the day at UMKC, both as an SI participant and leader.

“It makes learning fun,” he says. “It provides limitless creative freedom to reinforce the content.”

Gugnani credits SI for his success in the historically challenging Anatomy 219 course his freshman year. This semester, he’s both an SI leader for Anatomy 219 and an SI participant in Medical Biochemistry BMS 9265.

During each SI study session – typically an hour twice a week – SI leaders like Gugnani and Miller provide strategies for notetaking, organization and test preparation. They lead discussions and activities over lecture material to review and prepare students for higher levels of success in the class.

To prepare for sessions, SI leaders attend all class meetings, take notes, read and understand assigned materials and communicate with the respective professor and SI supervisor. SI is designed to be collaborative, involving all members of the session in hands-on, participatory learning.

For example, Miller plans to lead an SI discussion in Computer Science 101 about CSV (comma-separated values) files with large datasets of Netflix programming and students will learn how to organize them by cross referring them with their favorite actors. Gugnani led a recent Anatomy 219 SI session by having teams draw bones in a race.

“Students are excited, and they engage with SI,” Gugnani says. “Because of the non-remedial approach, there’s no stigma to it. It’s good for all students.”

So why is SI still strong 50 years later?

“SI has not stopped working all these years later because the challenges it was designed to address remain the same,” Pearson says. “Many students entering colleges and universities do not understand how to learn effectively in a college setting. We need a space for students to learn how to learn. SI offered that 50 years ago and it still offers it today.”

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