Graduate Marell Cook Shares her Experience so Others Can benefit

Recent STEPP and ECU graduate Marell Cook has some advice for those who would like to have as positive a college experience as she has enjoyed—Stay focused and treat school as a full-time job. Then enjoy college life in the evenings and on weekends.

It’s an approach that worked well for her based on an impressive list of accomplishments including the Eastern Carolina Association of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Award and the undergraduate Outstanding Senior Award for the English department. Even if you don’t know Marell, you might recognize her name from the permanent mark she has left on ECU. Early on in her time as a Pirate, she wrote the poem “Where Pirates Plunder” which graces the entry to the Boneyard, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium's raucous end zone section.

But, like many students with learning differences, the journey hasn’t always been an easy one. She struggled in elementary school and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia. She then attended The Fletcher School, a private school in Charlotte, NC catering to students with learning differences. Marell said she is very grateful for the support she received both at Fletcher in Charlotte and Project STEPP at ECU. She also expressed gratitude for her parents’ unwavering belief in her abilities. “They are the driving force behind my admittance to both Fletcher and STEPP. 

“When I came to ECU, I was anxious about the usual things, such as being away from home and living with a random roommate, but I was also concerned that my learning difference would hinder my ability to be successful,” Marell said. “However, thanks to the STEPP program, I learned how to be my own advocate, and I knew that Project STEPP would be there if I really needed help.”

Marell said that apart from helping her learn self-advocacy, the program provided her with ample tutors, assistive technology, and the Learning Cove, which for her was the most helpful aspect of the program. The Cove is a place in the Joyner Library reserved for STEPP participants from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “The Cove provided me with a supportive community and was the perfect place for me to study or simply hang out in between classes,” she said.

Marell said most of her fellow classmates never knew she has dyslexia because she met with her professors on an individual basis to work out appropriate accommodations. “While I’m not ashamed of being dyslexic, it isn’t something I like to broadcast all the time and I’d try to keep it under the radar simply because I felt my classmates didn’t really need to know,” she said. Thanks to ECU’s Disabilities Support Services (DSS), Marell was able to take her exams in a separate location with accommodations such as extended time, the use of Word to type essays, and the use of a calculator for math. She said those accommodations were a big part of her success in college. 

Although Marell didn’t feel the need to advertise her learning difference in her classes, she also didn’t want to hide it. When Dr. Sarah Williams approached her about starting a student blog for the College STAR program, she took up the challenge with enthusiasm. With the help of Tanner Jones, the College STAR Technology Specialist, she created a website which has regular postings about tackling certain aspects of college life with learning differences, all written by current college students with learning differences of their own. There’s also a Student-to-Student section where students from anywhere can post a question and have it be answered by one of the blogging team members.

Marell’s main position on the College STAR Student Blog has been editor and website manager. However, she has also been an active contributor over the years, posting articles on both social and academic topics along with the rest of her team members. Marell is proud of the team’s role in bringing down any stigma associated with having learning differences and hopes LD students that follow her will continue to make progress in educating the public and encouraging students with learning differences to go to college. 

The blog was a good fit for Marell who majored in English and now, as a post-grad, is actively working on her first novel. That may seem like a lofty goal, but given her reputation for successfully tackling other challenges, sometime in the future we may find her signing books at an area bookstore.