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Mindset to Success

Publisher's note: The author of this post, Crystal Baity, is a contributor to ECU News Services.

Amber Arnold, assistant director of student success in the Pirate Academic Success Center, works with ECU student Noland McDonald on a homework assignment. | Photos: Rhett Butler

    Nolan McDonald speaks from experience: You can turn around a bad first semester.

    Now a junior, McDonald moved to East Carolina University from his hometown of Medford, New Jersey. Not knowing a lot of people, he said he spent more time trying to make friends and socializing than studying.

    By Christmas break of his freshman year, his GPA fell below 2.0 and his parents were disappointed and worried.

Amber Arnold, assistant director of student success in the Pirate Academic Success Center, smiles as she listens to Nolan McDonald talk about how the center has helped him since his freshman year at ECU.
    "I realized that I messed up," McDonald said. "I didn't want to see my parents that sad. My mom said 'If you fail, I fail.'"

    McDonald returned to ECU with a plan thanks to Mindset to Success, an academic recovery program designed for second semester freshmen who have earned a GPA below 2.0 in their first semester at ECU.

    Part of McDonald's turnaround came by working with Amber Arnold, assistant director for student success in the Pirate Academic Success Center (PASC).

    After 2017 winter break, McDonald enrolled in a spring COAD 1000 class where he learned how to set goals, improve his time management and study skills, and balance coursework and campus life. "I learned how much time you have to put in to get the grade you want," McDonald said.

    Some students don't tell their parents about their GPA, and the center complies with all privacy requirements. If students do involve their parents, the center can be a resource to them, too. PASC Director Elizabeth Coghill and Arnold met with McDonald's dad who was reassured by his son's action plan.

    "It allows the parent to see the effort the student is making," Coghill said. "They're still a good kid. They are still working to be here."

How the Mindset to Success program can help

  • Goal setting
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Balancing school and social life
  • Note-taking and study skills
The Pirate Academic Success Center offers free tutoring, study groups, academic skills and peer coaching for ECU students. The center is in Suite 2300 on the second floor of the Old Cafeteria Complex. Call 252-737-3009 or email to contact PASC staff or make an appointment.
    McDonald said one of the biggest lessons he learned was to go to class. "If you can go to class, you're going to learn something. It's up to you," he said. "You can't miss assignments. You do have to spend time on each subject, if not every day, every other day."

    McDonald also started going to the PASC after class to work on assignments, building it into his regular schedule. Arnold became his go-to person at the center.

    "You need to find your person," she said. PASC staff and volunteer student peers become a trusted confidante who provide support, motivation and accountability to students who are struggling. "They respond to acceptance. They need someone to listen and hear all the things that went wrong - without judgment," said Arnold '11 '13 who was a tutor at the PASC when she was an ECU student.

    "For students to be successful, they can't be anonymous," Coghill said. "Students isolate themselves and don't know who to talk to."

    McDonald said it can be hard to ask for help because students want to improve their grades on their own. "Asking for help is not a bad thing," he said. "I think most people will get hooked if they do. If they come here, they will see what a difference it will make on their grades."

    McDonald, a mathematics major, has doubled his grade point average since his first-year plummet. He has referred friends to the center and used his experience to talk with students in COAD classes about how the program helped him.

    For Arnold, the biggest reward is seeing students succeed. "Being able to see them figure out they can do this," she said. "Most had a successful high school experience. To see them grow into their potential, they can learn to study, they can learn to do this thing called college, and do it well. We're addressing concerns beyond course content. We're making connections and building relationships with students."

    In addition to Mindset, the center offers free support and resources for students including the REBOUND and Connect for Success programs. During the fall semester, PASC served 5,002 students with 25,335 visits.

    To find out more, visit


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