Students in Saint Leo's online degree programs who need research assistance receive expert guidance when they turn to Sandy Hawes. They also find an empathetic ear.

Think back to your elementary school librarian.

If you were lucky, that librarian made you feel as if you were the only student in the world. Maybe he or she found you the perfect novel that sparked a lifelong love of reading or the ideal resource to help with a term paper.

In that regard, Saint Leo's Sandy Hawes is an "old-fashioned" librarian in a high-tech world.

Hawes takes the university's core values – particularly the value of respect – to heart. It's what drives her to do whatever it takes to help each and every online student be successful.

As Saint Leo's online services/reference librarian, Hawes is dedicated solely to assisting the university's online students with research strategies and the library's electronic resources and technologies. An associate professor, her mission is to teach students the skills and knowledge that will empower them to conduct effective research on their own throughout their college careers.

"I'm here to help students become more proficient researchers and it's always a pleasure to be of some modicum of assistance," she says. "Each time students and I work on research together, I layer on a few more research skills until, the next thing they know, they've become epic research pros!" says Hawes.

But she does even more than that.

"I'm also here to back-stop them when they're feeling overwhelmed with the process. I want to uplift students. So for me, providing emotional support can be just as important as my help with using the library."

The reason why Hawes understands the needs of adult students so well is because she walked in those same shoes herself.

Earning three degrees while raising a family and working

Hawes was raising her son while she pursued an undergraduate degree in education – a process that took 11 years and, at times, involved scraping together enough money to take even a single course a semester.

Later, she earned a master's degree in library science, attending classes on nights and weekends while working full-time. And after being advised that a second master's degree in educational leadership would advance her career, she returned to school again and completed a third degree program.

As a result of her own educational journey, Hawes has a "soft spot" for non-traditional college students, especially those working full-time and taking care of a family.

"I had to find babysitting and drive to campus when my son was small. So I know exactly what they're up against. It's not easy."

Personalized support for online learners

Since she was an adult student, herself, Hawes understands how to tailor advice to best fit the needs of busy online students.

Hawes knows, for example, that if a student is using a 15-minute break at work or lunch hour to move forward on an assignment, that the best approach is to help gather materials quickly and efficiently.

"This way the resources are available for them to reflect on later when they have more time," she says. "I want them to spend their precious intellectual capital and limited time on reading, reflecting, and writing, and not on the search, itself."

Customizing assistance to address a student's specific issues also saves time.

For example, if a student e-mails her a question, she may use a tool called SnagIt to grab a series of screenshots and record a short audio clip to demonstrate how to find the information needed in the library's online catalog.

Students who call her might be invited to her Join.Me account. Doing so enables Hawes to share her computer screen so students can see how she navigates the library's catalog and can follow the steps themselves later.

If the information a student needs is in a book in print-only format at the university's Cannon Memorial Library, she can help with that, as well. One complete chapter can be scanned and e-mailed, or an entire book can be mailed a student's home address.

If a student has questions or concerns regarding plagiarism, Hawes provides resources to help understand how to paraphrase and use resources ethically and properly cite them.

And when students need help with writing in an academic writing style or understanding their research, she connects them with Saint Leo's two research and writing instructors for help crafting the best research paper possible.

Webinars and tools for success made convenient

Hawes creates and presents a wide variety of specialized webinars on specific subjects such as art, business, literary criticism, marketing, philosophy, and more, as well as webinars that address research skills – exporting citations from different programs or using science databases, for example.

She conducts these webinars nightly for several weeks each term in her virtual classroom and answers questions after each session. Links to recorded presentations are always available so students can watch when it's convenient for them. Hawes follows up with informational e-mails and links and encourages students to sign up for a personal research consultation with her.

Another tool Hawes is working on is a series of three-minute video tutorials based on questions she commonly receives from students. The tutorials will show students—via screenshots and audio voiceover—how to perform certain research tasks or cite resources.

In addition to providing students with webinars, videos and one-on-one consultations, Hawes contributes to the library's blog, and has written several LibGuides, including one about accessing library resources on a mobile phone.

Students' biggest fan

Research and writing tips, tricks and techniques aside, Hawes realizes that it's often the intangible support – the reassuring voice – that may help a student most during a challenging time.

"I want students to know that they should never hesitate to contact me to pick my brain for search terms, or places to look in the online library for their resources," she says.

"Sometimes all it takes is a bit of personal assistance to gain the confidence to move forward with an 'I can do this' attitude."

Reach Sandy Hawes at or at (352) 558-8262.

Hawes is typically available to answer student questions Sunday through Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. If you need help at other times, Saint Leo's reference librarians are available seven days a week: Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Image Credits: Musgo Dumio_Momio on Flickr Creative Commons and Saint Leo University Communications