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Pieces of Eight


Pirate Tutoring Center Offers Help for All Students

By Antwan Staley

ECU students who struggle with grades or just need help making the adjustment from high school to college can find assistance at the Pirate Tutoring Center, where their peers volunteer to provide tutoring services.

Elizabeth M. Hand Coghill, associate director of the center, said the center offers guidance in developing effective study skills, utilizing campus resources, understanding academic records, and even explaining a bad semester to parents.

“Most students didn’t learn good study skills in high school,” Coghill said. “The things that they did in high school aren’t going to work on a college level.”

“High school students are used to getting progress reports, so they know where they stand in the middle of a semester. In college it isn’t like that,” she said.

The tutoring center teaches student to use the resources they have to enjoy a better academic life at ECU. “You wouldn’t believe the number of students who don’t use the study guides and PowerPoints that professors give them. At the Pirate Tutoring Center, we teach them how to write notes and how to study for tests using these resources,” Coghill said.

Not all who come to the center for help are failing. Some students come for help to get A’s and B’s, because they are in competitive programs that require a high GPA. Nursing, for example, requires a 3.0 GPA and students in that program come in for help in keeping up their averages.

The center welcomes students who are struggling with just one class or those who just need to ask a question. “We want all students to feel that the center is a place they can find help,” Coghill said.

Students who need advice on how to explain bad grades to parents often come away from the center with much more than that.

“We teach them to take responsibility for their bad semester, but we also have them map out a plan that they can give to their parents, indicating what went wrong and what they are going to do better next semester.” To this effort, Coghill applies her own experience from having two children. “It doesn’t change what happened, but at least students have a plan to show their parents what will happen next,” Coghill said.

Tutors are ECU students who volunteer at least twice a month and get credit for their volunteer hours. Potential tutors go through an extensive application process.

They must have a minimum GPA of 3.0, a grade of A or B in the course they tutor, and three ECU faculty references. This year, the center had 96 tutors, and 60 percent of them averaged 3.5 or better in their coursework.

Services are provided to students free of charge, one of few such programs in North Carolina. “Students at other universities are charged hundreds of dollars for tutoring services and I didn’t believe that was right,” Coghill said.

The only other free tutoring center among the state’s universities is at UNC – Chapel Hill.

Coghill was an academic advisor at ECU before she got involved with the Pirate Tutoring Center, which she considered an opportunity to help students achieve their goals while helping graduation rates improve at ECU.

“I liked being an academic advisor, but I missed the one-on one-interaction with students. When I saw the chance to get this program running, I wanted to do it. And I am glad I did because I love what I do,” she said.

Created in February 2008, the center operates out of Joyner Library on Tuesday and Wednesday. Operating hours are from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

This page originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at