New center to help students in and beyond the classroom

East Carolina University student Miriam Harb entered college with a lot of questions. Now, she answers them.

As a student success coach with the new Student Success Center in the College of Engineering and Technology, she answers questions from new students and helps them chart their paths to success.

Miriam Harb, a junior computer science major at East Carolina University, serves as a student success coach as part of the College of Engineering and Technology’s Student Success Center.

“The point of college is to learn to become an adult. It’s not just a degree,” said Harb, a junior computer science major. “There are so many experiences that you have to go through to grow so you can learn all of these life lessons.”

The center is a collaborative effort of the entire college, involving academic advisors, faculty, staff and even the students themselves. The goal is to take a proactive approach in reaching out and helping each student define success not just in the classroom, but also in the workplace and in life — even if students don’t yet know what that success looks like.

“Most of our new students are just 18 or 19 when they come to ECU,” said Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the college. “At this age, you’re figuring out who you are as a young adult. What are your values? What are your goals and motivations in life? How do you define success as a student and beyond?”

The center provides a variety of resources to help students answer those questions.

“It’s about more than just student success. It’s about the life success of the young people we touch as they pass through here,” Ploehn said.

Ploehn said the center takes a holistic approach that not only focuses on academic success, but also on helping students make the critical transition from teenage high schoolers to adults and college graduates.

That transition starts with the college’s First Year Program. It is designed to help students actively engage in personal, academic and professional development during what Ploehn called a crucial time for young adults.

Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, speaks to parents and guardians during orientation this past summer.

“The choices our students make and the experiences that they gain in their first year of college are critical in determining almost the entire trajectory of their lives,” he said. “Making it to college is an accomplishment, but it’s not at all the end of the story. It’s a critical step in the transition into adulthood — and it’s a huge investment of time and money with a real risk of failure but lifelong benefits from success. Our students should question their assumptions about why they’re in college and continuously reassess the decisions they’ve made about career and degree goals to ensure they’re making the right choices for their lives.”

The Student Success Plan helps students to focus on those decisions. As part of the plan, first-year students answer questions that are designed to get them thinking about what they want to do in their lives and careers, rather than just planning what courses they’ll take. As students grow, gaining experience and perspective, they will revisit the plan and update it each semester.

“The plan isn’t just another form to fill out. It is a template for conversations between students and their student success coaches about their life choices, to hold them accountable for what they’re thinking about and what is really their life plan,” Ploehn said.

Those conversations between students and their coaches — upperclassmen like Harb as well as faculty members and advisors — are a critical part of the center’s role in actively engaging students in planning for their own success. Ploehn equates the idea to ECU’s investment in student-athletes.

“Every student-athlete at ECU has one or multiple coaches who are trying to help them achieve peak performance in their sport,” he said. “They each have a plan in terms of their workout, their meals, their strength and conditioning, and their practice schedule. They just don’t show up at the field on Saturday afternoon and say, ‘Let’s go play N.C. State.’ They have coaches and they have a game plan.

“In this college, I want every student to have a coach and every student to have a plan. Student success coaches and student success ‘game plans’ are our formula for helping each individual achieve success as a student now and in life beyond ECU.”

Harb coaches five students, four of whom are freshmen, helping them transition to collegiate academics and life on campus.

“When you’re a freshman, you’re not experiencing just what your major is. You’re experiencing college in general, which can be such a difficult thing,” Harb said. “Having someone you can talk to and having someone you can trust is such a tremendous opportunity. Not everyone gets an opportunity to have someone to talk to. If your own family and your own friends aren’t around, it can be so lonely, which is why I think a program like this is so vital.”

As students continue in their college careers, the coaches will point students toward internships, scholarships, research opportunities, study abroad trips and many other career development opportunities, all housed in the center’s offices of industry engagement, career and professional development, and academic advising.

David Bucci will serve as executive director of the Student Success Center.

“That’s the essence of the Student Success Center, taking all these different student services that are available — from the First Year Program to advising to graduation to a career — and connecting them under one roof,” said David Bucci, the center’s executive director.

Though the focus now is on first-year students, as the center continues to develop, the goal is to involve the college’s alumni to support older students as they look forward to graduation.

“Soon, I hope our upperclassmen will have alumni as student success coaches who can give them more focused professional advice to help them make that next level jump from graduating senior to working professional,” Ploehn said. “We use a cloud-based platform called Mentor Collective that can facilitate student connections with alumni anywhere so we can definitely up our game in this way.”

Though the center has not had a formal launch, Ploehn said the pieces of the program are coming into place.

“It’s a work in progress, and it’s certainly the highest priority of the college,” he said.

Bucci said the Student Success Center would not be possible without the support of faculty, staff, advisors and the college’s advancement council, all of whom have the same goal —to help students succeed.

“We’re going to help our students every step of the way, and that’s going to contribute to their success,” Bucci said. “We’re going to keep working with every student and finding the best ways to connect them to the resources they need to be successful, making college a great experience for them.”

“With coaches who care and personalized game plans, every student-scholar in our college will be able to achieve success at ECU and later, for life,” Ploehn said.

More information on the Student Success Center is available online at