Someone to Turn To: IUP Guides

Posted on 4/23/21 6:53 PM
Maggie Weader talks with her Guide, Adam Jones, outside Cogswell Hall.

Maggie Weader talks with her Guide, Adam Jones, outside Cogswell Hall.

When Kamir Walton started college this spring, he didn't know anyone at IUP.

Kamir Walton

Kamir Walton

That changed quickly, though. When the freshman computer science major from Turtle Creek opened his IUP email, he found a welcoming message from Adam Jones, letting him know that Jones was assigned to be his Guide.

Walton now had someone he could turn to who was ready to help. It made a difference.

“I definitely appreciated that first time he reached out,” Walton said. “It added a friendly, familiar overtone to everything, especially when I didn't know anyone at school yet.

“It was like a safety net for me,” he said. “It definitely helped.”

A Unique Program

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Through the IUP Guides program, established last fall, all students in their first semester at IUP—freshman and transfer students—are assigned a Guide. Anyone else who wants a Guide can also have one, said Jones, director of the Office of Student Support and Community Standards and one of the program's coordinators.

Currently, about 2,000 students are divided among roughly 70 Guides—IUP staff, faculty, and administrators. Guides contact their assigned students a couple of times a semester to let them know they're available to help.

Jones doesn't know of any other college with a program similar to the IUP Guides, which operates on a volunteer basis.

“I always wanted students to feel like IUP was home, and playing even a small part in that is worth it—worth all the hard work,” Jones said.

It's a little more work for Jones than for most. While Guides usually have 25 to 35 students, he has about 240.

“I love it. I get to interact with the students in a positive way,” he said.

When he sends a group email, 30 to 50 students usually reply, though most just say hi. Some might want help or have a question.

Maggie Weader

Maggie Weader

While Guides are usually the ones helping students, occasionally a student introduces a Guide to something new. Maggie Weader, a freshman music education major with a concentration in flute, invited Jones, her Guide, to watch a livestreamed performance of the marching band, which he enjoyed.

When Weader first came to IUP and learned she would be assigned a Guide, she liked the idea. “I was excited to be able to talk to someone who knows a lot about the campus and to be able to ask them questions that I would come up with or just to have someone to talk about school with,” she said.

“Having a Guide improves your college experience. You get to hear about your Guide's experience at IUP, and they can help you with anything you need help with, academic or otherwise. You get to talk to someone who genuinely cares about your mental, physical, and overall health. They contact you a couple of times throughout the semester and are there for you whenever you need them to be.”

Volunteers Take a Chance

Felicia Daniel

Felicia Daniel

By signing up for a brand-new program, the volunteers were taking a leap of faith that they'd be able to handle the number of questions they'd get after reaching out to so many new students.

Felicia Daniel, who received a bachelor's degree in 2009 and a master's in 2010 from IUP, became a Guide because she wanted to support students. She is an administrative assistant in the dean's office of the College of Education and Communications.

“As an alumna and a current employee, I believed that I could relate to students and offer help in navigating the college experience,” she said. “Becoming a Guide allowed me to invest in people, which aligns with my passion and strengths.”

Guides don't have to know all the answers. Their job is to connect students with people and resources that can help them.

Topics students have asked about include how to contact their advisors, register for classes, change majors, get a job on campus, or join the track team. Some have asked about resources available through the Counseling Center.

Now on the Giving End

Pam Guzman

Pam Guzman

Guide Pamela Guzman, a 2016 IUP graduate, draws on the support she received as a student, as well as what she has learned in her job as assistant director of Admissions for Latinx Recruitment.

“Remembering the resources that were offered to me and also what I wish I had access to at the time definitely influenced me to want to become a Guide. However, working in admissions and having familiarity with incoming students and their concerns was my main motivator,” she said.

When she was a student, Guzman went to her admissions counselor's office for advice and support.

“Even though they had no involvement with my academics, they were always willing to help me outside of the classroom,” she said. “Seeing the positive impact that had on me as a student—I wanted to give that in return as a Guide.”

Guzman was active as an IUP student, and she encourages the students she guides to be active as well. “I shared that I am definitely #IUPProud because of all the memories I created being part of so many organizations, and I hope they can all say the same by the time they graduate.”

A Team-Built Program

Ann Sesti

Ann Sesti

Three IUP employees worked together to create the Guides program: Jones, along with coordinating cochairs Caitlin Aiello M'08, director of Communications in Student Affairs, and Ann Sesti, director of Student Wellness and Engagement. A fourth cochair, Zach Collins, professor of Tuba and Euphonium, later joined the team.

Sesti said the cochairs worked hard to get the program off the ground last year and are pleased that students are responding to it.

“It's a program that has a lot of promise,” Sesti said. “For 30 years, my job has been to assist students in making healthy lifestyle choices. However, being a Guide has allowed me to reach out to a new set of students I might not have met otherwise. As for the students I interact with, I want them to feel that I am accepting and nonjudgmental, will meet them where they are in their journey, and will do whatever I can to help them succeed.”