Resident assistant finds multiple avenues to help others succeed at IU Bloomington

As a kid, JP Pritchard always had a supply of bandages and other emergency items in his backpack -- and not just because his mom made him.

He has been drawn to health care since he was young, so when the now-junior began his undergraduate career at Indiana University Bloomington, majoring in human biology seemed like a natural fit. When he came to IU from Chesterton, Indiana, Pritchard wanted to be a doctor and planned to go on to medical school.

But like many college students, he discovered that the future he had envisioned for himself since he was in the eighth grade might not align with what he actually wants to do for the rest of his life.

"I started taking the required med school classes, but it just wasn't for me. I couldn't see myself loving being a doctor," Pritchard said. "So I reflected on it, and while I knew that's not what I wanted to do, I didn't know what I did want to do."

JP Pritchard sits and talks with his residents during Welcome Week. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Unsure how to move forward, Pritchard looked at his interests outside the classroom. Realizing his love for media, especially video, he started to think of ways he could combine that passion with public health.

That's when he discovered IU's Individualized Major Program from Miriam Attenoukon, his advisor and STEM coordinator for the Hudson and Holland Scholars Program.

The Individualized Major Program allows students like Pritchard to create their own multidisciplinary learning experience. While working closely with a faculty sponsor, students in the program must design a 30- to 42-credit-hour curriculum fitting their needs, with justification. Along with also completing the general requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences, the students must present a final project related to their chosen major.

"I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. I don't need to do something that is prescribed to me, and now I am able to customize my world," he said. "It was such a relief to discover that IU offers this program and, to me, it's a testament that I picked the right school."

Attenoukon said Pritchard isn't the first student she has directed to this program, but the rigorous proposal process and program guidelines aren't for everyone, she said. "Not many students have the courage to make the switch," Attenoukon said. "But when JP sets his mind to something, he does it. That goes to show that he is not afraid to embrace intellectual challenge and welcomes setting his own path."

Pritchard is in the early stages of putting together his curriculum, which will focus on media, human biology and how the two specialties can be used together to advance public health and well-being. With Amy Gonzales from The Media School as his faculty advisor, he will be researching what effects the media have on an individual's health and how social or digital media could be harnessed to supply health information.

Pritchard is a RA in the new Agnes E. Wells Quadrangle Residence Center, which was recently renovated from academic space to student housing. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

"I love seeing and helping people succeed, and a big part of that is health," Pritchard said. "It's all about Maslow's hierarchy of needs: If your basic needs aren't being met then you can't move up and get better."

This same passion for helping others succeed is what led Pritchard to become a resident assistant for IU's Residential Programs and Services. When he moved into his residence hall as a freshman, his RA was the first person he met. And because Pritchard's RA helped him adjust, made him feel at home and seemed to truly care about making his IU experience memorable, Pritchard knew he wanted to do that for incoming students as well.

As an RA in the new Agnes E. Wells Quadrangle Residence Center, which was recently renovated from academic space to student housing, Pritchard will mentor and get to know 170 new and returning IU students. Being an RA for a second year, this time in a space that is new to campus, he is focused on fostering community for the students.

"We get the unique opportunity to create a new legacy and set our own tone for the community of Wells Quad," he said. "I want to provide a welcoming environment -- and get everyone in the quad on board to do so -- in order to make this place feel as much like home as possible."

To create this environment, he plans to talk to the students and get to know their stories. He will ask them how they plan to spend their day and make it a point to find them later to follow up on how it went or what they experienced.

Pritchard welcomes and directs a student moving in. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Residence manager Matthew Jones, Pritchard's supervisor in Ashton Residence Center last year, said this aspect of his character is what makes Pritchard a successful RA.

"JP's most admirable quality is his big heart," Jones said. "He genuinely cares about others because he is a good person and that is his nature, not because it is his job and he is paid to do it."

But mostly, Pritchard loves watching as students experience IU in the same way that he did and still is.

"I am in this role to help them succeed and grow as people," Pritchard said. "IU is a place where you can learn whatever you want, explore new avenues of interest that you never would have discovered otherwise and feel accepted while doing it."

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