By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Eastern Kentucky University

Until five years ago, Eastern Kentucky University students with questions about college life had to schlep all over campus to various departments for help.

Have a roommate issue? Go to housing. Need help with financial aid? Head to the scholarship office. Falling behind in calculus? Traipse over to the math department.

There was no central location where students could get their questions answered. Officials decided to change that.

With the creation of the EKU GURUs, students can get any and all questions answered—at one of three convenient locations—by successful juniors and seniors who get paid for their service.

“GURUs are part tutor, part resident advisor, part concierge,” says Mandy Eppley, the student support services manager who supervises the initiative.

Unlike other campus programs that assist at-risk students, the 30 to 35 GURUs support everyone.

Most questions are about campus life or navigation, though they are trained as academic tutors. To qualify as a GURU, students must be upperclassmen, have a minimum 3.5 GPA, and submit two faculty recommendations—plus an additional recommendation for every subject in which they want to tutor.

GURUs also must have personality characteristics—such as humility and a willingness to help—that make them easy to talk to, says Eppley.

Each GURU serves as a liaison to one or two academic departments and a few service areas, such as financial aid or the president’s office. To stay current on information, GURUs meet with their department contacts every other week—learning about upcoming events and other resources that the GURUs share with the whole campus via social media.

Students can receive as much free tutoring as they need. The university has also made its three GURU locations more inviting by offering popcorn and playing music so students can’t hear the sometimes sensitive questions their peers maybe be asking the GURUs, Eppley says.

With an annual budget of about $127,000—which pays the salaries of full- and part-time staff members and the 30 to 35 GURUs—the program is having an impact on retention. For the 2012-13 academic year, “the retention rate was 84 percent if you came to see a GURU for homework help,” says Eppley.