For Lou Ann Sears, PhD, the past 25 years have been a labor of love as she has helped students to find the support they needed to succeed and earn a Pitt degree. That support includes connecting students to tutors as well as assisting some students in identifying learning disabilities and obtaining the appropriate accommodations.
Hired in September 1997, Sears was given the directive to found and manage the campus’ Learning Resources Center (LRC) in order to provide disability services, tutoring, a writing center, and study help.
Today, Sears handles disability services and oversees the work of professional tutors Michael Garing, Daniel Hitt, and Jacob Wigfield. A small army of peer tutors, volunteer note-takers, and a new student intern round out the Center’s staff. In a typical academic year, Sears estimates that more than 575 students use the disability services and approximately 600 students receive tutoring.
For students who seek out a clinical diagnosis, the support can be life-changing. On Pitt-Greensburg alumna shared: “I was so grateful to the LRC and staff during my four years at Pitt-Greensburg. After studying for two weeks and failing an exam, I brought my frustrations to Dr. Sears. After confirmation of my clinical diagnosis, Dr. Sears introduced me to a professional tutor who thoroughly supported me each semester to make sure I had the proper resources to help me through my educational experience.”
A 2017 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5,” estimates that about 20 percent of children in the United State have learning and attention issues. That’s more than 11 million students in the nation who are dealing with the challenges these disabilities produce. Without the proper support and accommodations, many of these students grow frustrated and drop out of high school.
“Pitt-Greensburg’s Learning Resources Center played an integral role in my success as a college student,” shared another Pitt-Greensburg alumnus. “I have a developmental disability: Autism. Thanks to the Learning Resources Center, I was able to receive crucial accommodations that I needed to succeed.”
The LRC is an important resource for faculty, too.
"In the fall 2015 term, I had a sophomore psychology major who felt anxious about my Stat 200 Basic Applied Statistics course," said Michael Lucci, PhD, instructor of mathematics. "I encouraged her to go to the LRC for tutoring. She improved her grade, started volunteering answers, and performed very well in my class. The LRC experience helped her to strengthen her statistical knowledge and to build her confidence. She graduated with honors and went on to complete a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling."
Martha Koehler, PhD, professor of English, noted: “I have been sending my composition students to the Learning Center for almost as long as it’s been operating. Both the drop-in tutoring and the availability of regular appointments with a committed tutor are vital opportunities for any students who might be struggling with a particular assignment or with expository writing in general.” Koehler noted that the Center provides valuable work experience for student tutors, too. “It’s a friendly, welcoming, hands-on environment, with Dr. Sears guiding all of the exchanges in a discreet and knowledgeable way.”
Sears believes that it is important to emphasize that the LRC offers support and services to all students who request it—and not all of the students using the LRC services have disabilities.
“The Learning Resources Center is a very important part of our strategies to help students achieve their academic goals,” said Robert Gregerson, PhD, president of Pitt-Greensburg. “Through its multiple services, it helps students succeed in their classes, improving their ability to finish their undergraduate degrees and graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. We are proud of the work that Lou Ann Sears and her colleagues in the LRC have done to support Pitt-Greensburg students over the past 25 years.”