Staff Spotlight – Marcus Epps Discusses Helping Students Succeed

Marcus T. Epps is the Coordinator of Academic Coaching & Tutoring Services from Buffalo NY. Epps job involves helping mentors, tutors, and teaching assistants understand that impacting the success of other students involves much more than being a “good” student themselves. The Pinnacle had an opportunity for a Q and A with Epps.

(Marcus T. Epps, the Coordinator of Academic Coaching & Tutoring Services at Berea College) Derby Chukwudi (News Writer) / Andrea Dowlen (Photographer)

Pinnacle: Berea is certainly a long way from New York where you received both your undergraduate and graduate education. What made you choose Berea College?

Epps: I chose Berea because I believe in its aspirations. I always joke that I wish I knew of Berea when I was applying to schools. However, I would have probably flunked out in my first semester because I had no idea what motivated me to be in college and had no clear goals in order to set myself up to be a successful college student! It wasn’t until I pursued my Master’s degree that I found my stride in college and worked towards a career mentoring and motivating students. Luckily, the struggles I had during my undergraduate degree helped me relate to students and better understand what they’re going through!

Every student that I’ve met here is extremely talented academically, even those who don’t receive all of the accolades like being on the Dean’s List. What I’ve found in doing this work is that we can all use someone in our lives who will genuinely take the time to help us envision and embark on our own success journey. Unfortunately, many students are unwilling and/or unable to reach out for help, and I have taken it upon myself to go to where the students are and take them as they are without judging them on who they “should be”. To be given the opportunity to create a program that does just that is an opportunity I couldn’t let slip away. Plus, the weather is much better here than in Buffalo. Goodbye, 8-month-long winters with 5 feet of snow!

Pinnacle: You have successfully built, from scratch, an Academic Coaching tutoring model here at Berea College. What was your inspiration for this project?

Epps: During my graduate study, I had the opportunity to work in the Academic Resource Center (ARC) at the University at Buffalo. While I was there, I provided counseling and mentoring to students from all walks of life; straight-A students, at-risk students, first-generation college students, you name it. During my time at the ARC, I realized the value and complexity of Academic Coaching. The stereotypical view of a tutor is someone who helps you with a specific course. The Academic Coaching tutoring model expands the relationship between the coach and the student to develop the life management skills that will help the student on their success journey, skills like decision-making, goal setting, dealing with stress, etc. My time at the ARC showed me the value in Academic Coaching and inspired me to build the program here at Berea.

Pinnacle: A 4.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) is a great goal for all students, but what do you think Berea College students should do to show their future employers and graduate schools that they have more to offer than just their CGPA?

Epps: I think demonstrating skills of communication, empathy, and real-world applications of your education are great ways to show an employer or graduate school that you are a well-rounded candidate. If you can spew out answers on an exam or in a paper, but can’t effectively communicate your knowledge or ideas to others, that will set you back in the workforce or in graduate school! I think Berea College students should focus on fully utilizing the programs and activities Berea has to offer, in order to develop the skills I mentioned. Learn about other cultures, do an internship, volunteer, etc. These experiences will help you grow as an individual and show future employers that you are more than just your CGPA.

Pinnacle: What advice do you have for Berea students who are finding it difficult to balance their work, classes, and social life?

Epps: One of my favorite motto’s is “Work Smarter, Not Harder.” That’s not to say you won’t have to work hard in college – but there are ways to maximize your effectiveness and to organize your time better. Instead of playing a game on your smartphone in that hour between classes, reread your notes from class. Reinforcing that knowledge will make it easier come homework or exam time, and you won’t have to spend as much time cramming. There are little tweaks like that, which can have a surprising benefit to your stress levels and ability to manage your time. Also, recognizing that Berea has a wealth of options and people to support you. The faculty and staff are here to be your guides and to set you up for success, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors or the various support staff on campus if you’re struggling.

Pinnacle: If you were not mentoring, coaching or helping students succeed academically and in the real world, what else would you be doing with your time?

Epps: Honestly, if I weren’t mentoring or coaching students as my job, I would be finding ways to do it on my own time! Even outside of work, I enjoy mentoring others (for example, at my church’s youth group). I guess something else I would be doing is writing or reading… About mentoring and helping others… I mean I do have hobbies, but I truly love advising, coaching, and mentoring! Getting to know people and working together to define and achieve goals is rewarding, and I’m blessed to have that as my role here at Berea College. It’s pretty difficult to imagine doing anything else.

This article is based on my interview with the Berea College newspaper The Pinnacle, November 9, 2016. (Some edits have been made for clarification purposes.). 
The original article can be found at:

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