2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. 

The Equal Access to Education coordinator position has always been a complicated student role. The COVID-19 pandemic has not made it any easier.

But that has not been a deterrence for Molly Ruffing ‘22, who has reintroduced the program in the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) in a big way.

“I knew they were hiring quite a few people in the CCE,” Ruffing said. “I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do it; I thought of all the requests for tutoring that would come in and how heart-breaking it would be. But I also knew it would be a great learning experience.”

A new path

Ruffing, a psychology and English double major from Kaukauna, was hired as the program’s coordinator last winter, before the pandemic hit and most students were sent home. Typically, the CCE does their hiring in Winter Term, and trains new employees during Spring Term. This was not the case for Ruffing. The pandemic changed everything, and Ruffing set out to create a new path.  

Over the summer, she worked on developing a plan for a re-envisioned version of the Volunteers in Tutoring at Lawrence (VITAL) program, which matches Lawrence students as tutors for K-12 pupils in the Appleton Area School District.

Molly Ruffing is among the Lawrence students supported as Paulson Scholars.

“It was only 10 hours a week; I would just work on stuff for VITAL,” Ruffing said of her summer efforts. “A lot of it was thinking about how we wanted to do training, logistically can we have people meeting, what were the forms going to look like now, do different questions have to be asked? Talking with partners in Appleton to see what we could do, because it’s difficult to get an adult to be with a minor on video by themselves, so working through that.”

In the past, when students would sign up to be a tutor, they would meet with their student in the library on campus. With COVID, this was no longer an option.

“I was looking at our end-of-the-year reports, and seeing what we did in the spring,” Ruffing said. “That was a partnership with St. Norbert College, but we wanted to be independent in the fall. So, looking at that and seeing what we can actually apply to our own program.”  

The demand grows

More than 200 tutoring requests have come in since school began in the fall. Appleton students were accessing classes remotely, and many were struggling to keep up.

“There were always a lot of requests, but it seemed like the requests became more desperate,” Ruffing said. “Before it was like, ‘It would be nice to have help’, and now it’s like, ‘My kid is months behind because they didn’t learn in spring at all when we transitioned.’ It was really hard to read some of those requests, but at a certain point you have to remember you are doing the best you can.” 

To fulfill such a high demand for tutors this year, Ruffing began partnering with retired Appleton teachers and even some Lawrence alumni. Right now, there are more than 100 pupils who have been paired with a tutor through the program.

In addition to VITAL, Ruffing is in charge of other access to education-focused programs.  

“I worked on starting a new program, which I am really excited for,” Ruffing said. “It’s a first-generation student-mentorship program with Kaukauna High School, called First of Many, and it’s starting this term. Not everyone who’s passionate about education necessarily wants to tutor; I still want people to be able to pursue that passion and give that to the community.”  

Ruffing said this work has confirmed her passion for education. After Lawrence, she hopes to work as a high school counselor.

“I love [my job] a lot,” Ruffing said. “In the beginning, it was kind of stressful because it is a lot. I would look at the requests and be thinking about all of these kids who are waiting, and I would just feel awful. But then I had to remember, ‘No, think of all the kids that you are supporting.’ It taught me how to set up that boundary and it made me more mindful of the impact I am creating, and it has just made me more passionate.” 

Molly Ruffing

Class Year: 2022

Major: Psychology and English

Hometown: Kaukauna, Wis.

Activities: Equal Access to Education, VITAL Tutoring