Thomas SegarTom Segar, vice president for Student Affairs, took a few minutes out of his schedule to talk with IUP's Marcom Office about what the fall semester might look like for students and to dish out his best advice for having a successful experience.

Setting the COVID-19 pandemic aside, IUP is implementing a few new things this year to improve the student experience. Could you talk about some of those? Let's start with expanding what was traditionally Welcome Weekend for first-year students to Welcome Week.

The decision to change from a Welcome Weekend to Welcome Week was very intentional. We wanted to provide new students with a longer period of time to become acclimated and to learn about all the ways that will help them become successful. So, we are offering sessions that will introduce them to what being in college means and teach them about classroom strategies and providing them with information about out-of-classroom resources—all that they need to be successful at IUP.

A full week also gives them an opportunity to get to know one another and form their own community before they have to start balancing the demands of attending class.

The Hawks Q&A Center and the Guides Program both are new this year. What about those?

I could talk all day about these two.

Hawks Q&A is literally a one-stop resource for every IUP student. You can ask any question, and you'll get an answer directly from the folks who run the center. If they can't answer it, they'll refer it elsewhere, but at no time will the center simply let something go. It will seek confirmation that your question has been answered and keep a connection with you. The center has a liaison with other campus entities. Every office will be working with the staff of the Hawks Q&A Center. The center will be online for at least this semester and will eventually move to a brick-and-mortar location.

And the guides—probably the thing I'm most excited about. Every new IUP student will have a professional staff member assigned to them as a resource to use, if they want. The guide's job is to guide—it's not to be an advisor or a counter. The guide's job is to travel along side the student during the student's IUP journey. The student can talk to the guide about any issue, and the guide will check in with the student, too. The guide is a person the student can always feel comfortable going to.

And, I should mention, any employee can be a guide—doesn't matter what their day job is, so long as the volunteer is willing to be in contact with students, answer by email and phone, and reach out on the student's behalf.

What about upper-class students? Can they request a guide?

Absolutely. We won't turn anyone away. All they have to do is contact Adam Jones. . [Note: Adam Jones works in the Office of Student Support and Community Standards in Ruddock Hall.]

Let's shift gears. Please put yourself in a student's shoes. If you're a student, what are you going to do at IUP to be successful?

Number 1, I'd participate. I'd participate in all the activities available to me during Welcome Week. I'd participate in all the learning activities my professors offer me, whether that's in a face-to-face setting or remote. I'd be asking questions, and I'd make myself known. I'd not let a question linger in my mind without asking it. I'd be nervous, nervous as all get out, because I might be in college for the first time, but I'd not let my nerves stop me. I'd trust all the good things I've heard about IUP, the wonderful commercials I've seen on YouTube and all the people I've talked to along the way, and I would trust everything they're saying. I mean, it has to be true, because they keep telling me it is. They keep telling me they care. I'd engage in the type of behavior that would confirm for me that IUP does care. I'd ask the questions. I'd get involved. I'd go to organizational meetings, even if they're online. If there are things to do in person, I'd do those things, too.

I'd meet people in the dining hall. I'd grab some lunch and, say, spot someone and make a connection. Like, “Hey, I see you have this sweatshirt from this place, and I'm interested in that, too.” I'd do all those things.

If I were an upper-class student this year, I'd reach out to my friends in my classes, and I'd probably take the lead in forming study groups.

True story—the only reason I got through my program as an undergrad was because I was the person who formed study groups. I was not the brightest person in all my classes, but I was certainly the most social. I'd get my classmates together, so in addition to understanding what we were learning in class, we'd work to navigate the class materials together outside of class. That was all in person, but you still can do that in a remote setting. I'd also take advantage of any offer of help my professors made to me.

I'd stay involved with all the clubs and organizations I was in when I was on campus. I wouldn't stop that. And, I'd use every service I could find. If I needed the Counseling Center, I'd get in touch. I'd still contact the Health Service staff if I had a cough or if something didn't feel quite right. I'd still check in with them, because even though I might not be on campus, they'd still see me remotely, and I'd trust that they can provide me with the same level of service.

I'd also not let any time go by with any lingering questions or concerns. If things aren't going well in class, I'd pose a question that very day, I wouldn't delay on that.

Is there any such thing as a dumb question? If I were a shy student, I might be intimidated by the dumb question.

There's no such thing as a dumb question, first. Second, any question you might have has probably already been asked. We'd marvel the fact that you came up with a question that has never been asked. If it's an original question, we love it—because no question is a dumb question.

So, students should try to stump you with questions?

Please! We want you to come to us with your questions.

How do you want students to feel about IUP from the time they arrive until they graduate? What do you want them to take away?

All the best preparation, of course, but first, that we care about them. That we recognize them and embrace their humanity. That we understand that they had to go through some challenges to get here. And, once they're here, that they are part of the IUP family. We'll do all that we can to make sure they're successful. We'll help them cross the finish line. Once they're part of the IUP family, they're always part of it. I want them to know that there is no one on this campus that doesn't want to help them succeed. We'll all do our best to make sure they do well, and that we take pride in the outcomes they achieve by working with us.

You have, including your own undergraduate experience, 28 years of experience in higher education. What is the very best piece of advice you can give students?

Keep moving! Keep trying. Keep trying to make progress—even if it's small. If you're trying to write a 20-page paper and you're overwhelmed, just try to write something. Even if you write just one sentence. Whatever you write doesn't need to be perfect.

And, don't ever let your fear of something prevent you from taking action. It's OK to be nervous. It's OK to be scared. It's OK to be anxious. Know that that doesn't have to stop you. The truth is that most human beings, if we're honest, are scared and anxious at different times of the day or year. We have to normalize that and realize that help is out there. No student is facing any problem that some other student hasn't faced before you. There is guidance available for you. Take advantage of it. Embrace your fear and take action. It's totally OK to ask for help. Just keep moving and take that next step.