Pirates helping Pirates


ECU sophomore Melissa Phillips (center) participating in one of three tutor orientation sessions. This session at Joyner Library included close to 50 tutors. (Photos by Chris Stansbury)

Student tutors step up, give back

By Chris Stansbury
Student Affairs

It’s a weeknight in January, and 50 East Carolina University students are at Joyner Library, learning.

This isn’t just an ordinary lesson. They are among a record-setting 300 volunteer student tutors this semester, and they are learning how to help their peers at ECU’s Pirate Tutoring Center.

That fledgling program is growing each semester, receiving praise from students and accolades from other campuses across North Carolina. But it’s especially drawing praise here at ECU from the students it has helped academically — and prompting them to step up, give back and help others.

“I was afraid of math and avoided it like the plague,” said sophomore Melissa Phillips who was diagnosed with ADHD during her freshman year.  “I never learned how to study the proper way in high school because I didn’t know I had a problem, but my tutor helped me find resources and created a strong study skills plan.

“ I took my grades from horrible in my first semester to almost making the honor roll,” said Phillips, from Jacksonville. “Now I am going to be a math tutor.”

‘I just owe it’

That pay-it-forward story is repeated over and over by the more than 300 students who have volunteered to tutor during the spring semester. They got something of value, they say, something that helped them over hurdles.

“In a way, each person who volunteers as a tutor is helping another student to achieve the goal of graduating,” said ECU junior Danielle Lograsso.

“Even if it’s just a small step, it’s pretty cool.”

Tutors like sophomore Coriyon Arrington say it’s just something they feel compelled to do.

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Tutor Cameron Gupton shares with the group his personal reason for becoming a tutor. Other reasons include: fun, helping my peers and because I needed a tutor too so now I want to give back.

“If it wasn’t for the tutors that helped me, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did in school,” said Arrington who plans on majoring in organic chemistry. “So I feel like I just, I just owe it to other people to come back and tutor and kind of pay it forward.”

During the training and orientation sessions held early in January, the volunteers were asked to write down why they decided to become a tutor.  While academics and career choice were options, the majority had a personal reason for signing up to serve.

“Being involved with someone one-on-one to teach them and help them was very rewarding,” said Sierra Plato, who started helping Spanish-speaking women learn English and realized she loved to teach.

“When I see the light bulb go off, it’s something special.” The Raleigh resident, who graduates in May with a degree in sociology, said she looked for ways to put that passion to use and found the Pirate Tutoring Center.

“I love sociology and could talk about it all day long,” said Plato.

The need for students with this type of enthusiasm is in high demand on most college campuses, including East Carolina. It is quite common on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights to see a long line of students at the PTC waiting to meet with a tutor.  Elizabeth Coghill, director, said this sends out a positive message to other students that “I’m not the only one struggling and its okay to ask for help.”

Tutoring builds bonds

Of those volunteers who switched from tutee to tutor, many say it was the bond they forged with their fellow students that made them want to share their experience with others.

“Students can be easier to talk to about academic problems,” said Lograsso, who went to a tutor for the first two years at ECU in math and Spanish, but now is in her third semester of tutoring political science and history. “There is so much to be intimidated by during your freshman year, that working through some problems with someone at your own level can really make a difference.”

Phillips, who wants to major in fashion merchandising and journalism so she can start her own fashion magazine, agreed and said she doesn’t need to be paid, there is plenty of reward.

“Sometimes it’s a hard concept, but when they get it…I love it when it clicks.  It’s just so satisfying.”

Many of ECU’s tutors will be showcased March 24 when East Carolina University and the Pirate Tutoring Center host institutions from across North Carolina as well as Virginia and South Carolina for the Innovative Peer Educators Conference.


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This orientation session on Jan. 20th was the second of three sessions that will prepare more than 300 students to volunteer as tutors during the spring 2012 semester.

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