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Month: January 2013

Coaching Non-Traditional Students Part 1: International Students

Coaching Non-Traditional Students Part 1: International Students

While each and every student who arrives on a college campus comes with a unique set of experiences, just as each human being on this planet has his or her own story to tell, the majority of incoming college freshmen have similar biographies: most are between the ages of 18-20 and have graduated from an American high school of some kind within the previous six to eighteen months. However, there are a few categories of students we classify as “non-traditional” for one reason or another; for example, older students who have been out of the education system for five, ten, or maybe even thirty years before deciding to either finish a degree they started years ago or attend college for the first time. Also, over the last ten years our universities have seen more and more veterans entering college having just come back from a war zone. Some of these veterans find themselves trying to “make it” in the world of higher education while simultaneously dealing with the effects of PTSD or traumatic brain injury; others simply may find it difficult to adjust to college life after multiple deployments overseas.

International students, especially those for whom English is a second language, also face some unique challenges. Students in these “non-traditional” categories face many of the same boulders in the road as their more traditional peers, but there are a few extra boulders that students in each of these groups often face, and it is our job as success coaches to never take a one-size fits all approach which prohibits us from serving these students effectively.

Let’s start with international students. At my independent university with an on-campus, undergraduate student population of 1500, 10% of those enrolled full-time are international students. This year, we have 154 international students from 33 countries, in addition to those who are enrolled online or part-time. Over the years, my success coach colleagues and I have worked with international students who come to us on either academic probation, academic warning, or semester warning, and I’ve found that, while many of the reasons they have fallen short mirror those of their American counterparts, there are generally two categories in which International students have unique needs or issues.

1. ACADEMICS: Academically, international students who are assigned a success coach are neither generally more prepared nor less prepared than American students for college coursework; however, I have seen two things, time and again, get in the way of a student’s success: English proficiency and differences in academic structures in their home countries v. in the United States. Imagine reading a finance textbook for the first time. Now imagine doing so in a language other than your native tongue. All non-native English speaking students are required to pass tests in English proficiency before entering college (such as the TOEFL), but being able to speak, read, and write in English is not the same as begin able to fully grasp a concept like quantum physics or Jungian v. Freudian theories of psychoanalysis when taught to you in your second or even third language.

Sometimes, with my non-native speakers, I guide them toward resources like software programs that can read textbooks aloud, while other times we work directly on improving their English. With some students, such as a girl named Claire I worked with who was from the UK, it’s not the language but the structure of our educational system that takes a little getting used to. Claire came to me as a transfer from a university in England where nearly all of the academic heavy lifting was done in the last year of school. Because the structure is so heavily skewed towards final exams at the end of a three or four-year process, many students (Claire included) figure they can spend the first two years of school sleeping late, skipping class, and playing darts at the pub, then, in the final year, cram in preparation for these highly important projects and exams. And while I am not experienced enough in higher education in the UK to judge the wisdom of such a plan, I can tell you that it’s not going to work at most American universities. Once Claire and I worked together to adjust her work habits to the new status quo, she did beautifully, but it did take some adjustment.

2. CULTURE SHOCK: To varying degrees, most international students experience, as Claire did, some kind of culture shock when adapting to life and school in a foreign country. For these students, maybe even more than for the rest of our student body, it helps to have a success coach who they talk to on a weekly basis. I get asked questions on topics anywhere from “what am I supposed to do with a parking ticket?” to “I think I have a cold, what should I get at the chemist?” One of my new students this semester, a Kuwaiti named Hassan, is just now experiencing his first, Ohio winter and wanted advice on driving in the snow. I’ve also helped shepherd international students through cultural differences in the ways in which American students and professors interact with one another.

A few years ago, another of my Chinese students was having major problems understanding the concepts in one of her classes, and I advised her to go directly to her professor, either after class or at office hours. “Julie” (her English name) told me in meeting after meeting that she would, but each time I asked her whether she’d spoken with her professor, she demurred. I suspected that Julie may have been affected by cultural differences between the relationships of professors to students here versus in her native China. Americans generally prize egalitarianism, as evidenced by the informality and comfortability with which many of our college professors and their students interact. We expect students to treat their professors with respect, but professors are not generally thought of as so high status as to be unapproachable. Julie was so intimidated by the thought of talking to her professor directly that instead she suffered in silence, letting her grades slip into the danger zone.

Similarly, American culture generally prizes initiative. We are encouraged to voice our opinions, talk in class, and initiate conversations with strangers. These cultural attitudes can seem anywhere from awkward to anathema to students from some, more culturally reserved or socially-hierarchical countries. Some cultures have different de facto rules concerning things like punctuality, plagiarism, or bribery, all of which I have encountered during my tenure as a success coach. Whatever the cultural hurdle, I make it clear to my students that I am there for them no matter what to help them achieve success.

In the end, we are all more alike than we are different, and often international students who end up with success coaches face the same boulders in the road as their American counterparts. I’ve had international students who struggle in class due to a language barrier, but I’ve also had those who just didn’t go to class or turn in their homework on time! I’ve had some who failed a course because they were too intimidated by the professor to get help, and I’ve seen some who failed because they just didn’t study! However, even some of these common boulders can become mountains with the added realities of attending a college or university in a new country. In the next couple of blogs, I will be touching upon specific issues faced by veterans, older students, and other “non-traditional” types, but for now, I will just say Sayonara. Adios. Adieu. Shalom. Ma’a Salama. Arrivederci.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Teaching Students the Art of Effective Scheduling

Teaching Students the Art of Effective Scheduling

  1. “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time!” Brandon exclaimed as he sat down across from me. “I thought, if I can fit all my classes back to back on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then I would have five days a week to study or work at the coffee shop or…”

“Or nap or play video games or hang out with your girlfriend?” I teased. Brandon blushed.

“Yeah, okay, I guess I thought about that too. But it seemed to make perfect sense! And now, I find that I spend all day Wednesday exhausted, recouping from a marathon Tuesday, until I realize on Wednesday night that I have to do literally all my reading for every class before the next day. Then, I do my marathon Thursday and spend all day Friday exhausted and recouping. Then it’s the weekend, and I tell myself I’m going to spend it chained to my desk, but then….”

“Weekend stuff happens?” I asked, knowingly. Brandon nodded. “Yup,” he replied. “If I want one of my buddies to knock on my door with an invitation to fun-town, all I have to do is try to get some work done. It’s like the universe can hear the sound of a textbook being cracked open and immediately sends in something or someone to thwart me.”

So much of my job is about the little things a student just can’t know unless either A) he or she has been there, done that, or B) been given the skinny by someone who has been there. A lot of these little things have to do with structuring your own time, a skill at which most college students are relatively inexperienced. I’ve mentioned it in previous blogs, but I know that I always benefit from reminding myself how different my own life was in high school vs. college. For most of us, we spend our first eighteen or nineteen years having our entire lives structured for us, then we enter into a university setting or the world of work and suddenly all these decisions are largely or solely our own.

Now that I have indeed “been there done that,” I can pass some of these pearls of scheduling wisdom on to my students. And the key word, as in many of life’s big challenges is: balance. I’ve seen a lot of my students, especially freshmen, go down Brandon’s road. Brandon thought he could have his cake and eat it too by over-scheduling two days of his week so that the other five would be relatively free, but he soon found himself completely out of balance. He was exhausted, over-exerted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the lack of structure on his Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays left him feeling less free than at sea. He hadn’t yet learned the careful art of structuring one’s free time to be both balanced and productive, and it was making him feel stressed and like he was always playing catch-up on sleep, on work, on everything.

So at the beginning of a new semester, in addition to going over a student’s various syllabi, we look at his or her schedule together. I’ve seen some students who’ve gone even further than Brandon, trying to cram all of their classes into one day, sometimes not even leaving themselves time for lunch. I try to play out the likeliest outcome of this plan. “Okay,” I say, “your first class is at 9 a.m., and you haven’t given yourself a break until 1:30. So, knowing that you won’t be able to get lunch until almost 2 p.m., you tell yourself you’re going to get up early and make sure you have a good breakfast. But you stayed up late studying the night before, and come morning that snooze button is really calling your name. So you give in to the sweet indulgence of five or, well, twenty-five (it’s so cozy in here and so cold out there!) minutes in bed, and now you’re lucky if you have time to grab a cup of coffee and a banana before frantically diving into the last available desk of your 9 a.m. class at 8:59.” Once students can see the realistic trajectory of a particular plan of action, they better understand its drawbacks.

We also talk about how long things actually take. A student may think it only takes him twenty minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, and walk to class when it actually takes him forty. Another may really, truly believe that it will only take her an hour or two to write a ten-page paper only to find herself, four hours after she’s begun and one hour until her submission deadline, typing the last sentence of a now rushed, somewhat sloppy introduction.

In addition, my students and I talk about balancing their course loads. I try to bring up the questions that students don’t even know to ask such as, “how many of your courses are writing intensive? Is it too many to confidently complete the amount of writing you will be assigned? Where are your academic weak spots? If it’s math, are you taking more than one math class at a time? If so, will you be spending so much time trying to slog through these classes that your performance in other areas will suffer? I also have more and more students who are taking courses either fully or partially online.

While online courses are, in my opinion, changing the face of higher education for the better, some students may just see them as a shortcut (I’ll never have to give a presentation in front of a roomful of people! I can go to class in my pajamas while simultaneously watching funny cat videos on Youtube!). However, acing an online course actually requires a great deal of self-discipline, and I don’t think I’m the only human in history who has gone down the rabbit hole that always begins with, “okay, but this time I’m going to be really really self-disciplined.” (diets, New Years’ resolutions, promises to totally keep it to just two Youtube cat videos a day- I’m lookin’ at you!)

Now, some students do have experience with creating daily, weekly, and semester-long schedules which set them up for the greatest possible success. Some people are naturally disciplined, punctual, always on task. Sure, and some people never have a bad hair day! Life isn’t fair! But for many of the students who end up walking into either my office or that of one of my success coach colleagues, scheduling is just another piece of the learning curve- a piece that I am happy to help them fit into the puzzle of collegiate success.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Study Skill Tips for Students

Study Skill Tips for Students

As mentioned in last week’s blog, there are two boulders in the road that seem to come up time and again for my students regardless of age, level of maturity, or socio-economic demographics: time management and study skills. Time management might be the wilier, more amorphous concept, but a lack of good study skills can really hurt a student who, with a little guidance, might otherwise ace every class from English 101 to Super-advanced-quantum-mechanical-string-theory-what-the-heck-is-dark-matter-anyway 303 (did I mention that I am not a scientist?). I think about things in my life that once seemed as impossible as they now seem obvious, like finding the volume of a rectangular solid before I knew that V = L x W x H, or taking apart simple machines until I learned the mantra “righty tight lefty loosie.” (Maybe it’s just me, but I remember being about ten years old when I learned “righty tighty lefty loosie,” and the revelation felt like I had just broken through The Matrix for the first time. As the film The Matrix wouldn’t be made for another 35 years, it was a pretty big deal.) The point is that there are simple, concrete ways in which we can teach college-level study skills, and sometimes it’s these small tweaks and strategies that can make all the difference.

When I work with students who need help in this area, the first thing I always do is try to figure out what kind of learners they are. We’ve all heard the basic idea that certain people are more visual learners while others learn better by listening. Some people are more tactile or more kinesthetic. For many of us, it’s a mix. I, for example, am terrible at mental math but pretty darn great when I have access to a pad and a pencil and can write out or draw every single step of the problem. However, when it comes to creating a lesson plan or contemplating possible solutions to a particular dilemma, I’ve found nothing works better than taking a good, long walk while working it all out in my head. Most students already have some idea as to how they learn best, but many of them don’t know how to adjust their note-taking and study habits accordingly. Once we discuss the subject at length, they become more conscious of what works best for them, and they also learn- maybe for the first time- that there are multiple ways to do this thing called studying. There isn’t one right answer! There are some general rules, for sure, but a lot of it comes down to what works best for each, individual student.

Thus, I like to break these ideas into two camps: the universal, and the personalized. Here are two examples of each:

THE UNIVERSAL:

1. SQ3R, or: How to Read a Textbook

Maybe the most important thing I do as a success coach besides provide a space where students feel supported, listened to, and held accountable, is to teach people how to read a college-level textbook. At my university, we primarily use a popular method, invented during WWII when the U.S. military was tasked with readying tens of thousands of young men for war in a very limited time frame, called SQ3R.  In brief, SQ3R stands for “survey, question, read, recite, review,” and it is all about teaching people to know ahead of time what they should be reading for. It teaches them to separate the corn from the chaff, so to speak- highlighting main ideas as well as the most salient details of a particular chapter without getting lost in less important but often more confusing verbiage. I often ask students to pick a book from the library on a subject about which neither of has much knowledge, and then we go through it together using the SQ3R method. For some students, it’s as great a revelation for them as “righty tighty lefty loosie,” was for me.

2. Read Your Professor’s Mind! or: How to Study for an Exam

The two main questions students need to ask themselves in preparation for an quiz or exam  are A) what material is likely to be on this test? and B) how do I make sure I know that stuff? The answer to question “A” can vary wildly from professor to professor. Some professors provide students with detailed study guides, and if it isn’t on the study guide, it isn’t on the test. Others give no guidance whatsoever as to either the content or the format of an impending exam. Still others split the difference; these professors may give students a basic outline of what will the be on a given test and what it may look like (multiple choice, essay, short answer), but that outline is in no way meant to be a comprehensive study guide. So I train my students in the dark and mysterious art of mind-reading. I encourage students to seek out peers who have taken a class or had a particular professor before in order to get the skinny. Of what kinds of questions were the exams comprised? For what things was a certain professor a real stickler? Did he or she care more about the accuracy of facts or the synthesis of “big picture” concepts? Once students have a solid idea about what is likely to be tested, we talk about how to essentialize and simplify their notes. How can they winnow weeks or even months of notes and readings down to a single page if possible? It’s just like how you get to Carnegie Hall- practice, practice, practice!

THE PERSONALIZED:

1. Become Head of the Class in Class: How to Actually Remember a Lecture

One of the biggest study skill-related issues I encounter is that of not knowing how to take notes effectively in class. Students are so used to being able to find anything and everything they want on the Internet that they don’t realize that not everything a professor says in a lecture will be “findable” outside that moment. A professor may emphasize and elaborate on certain concepts in a lecture that are not on any syllabus or study guide and may not even be easy found (gasp!) online, but may still be on an exam. Many of our professors use power point in their classes, and I advise my students to print out hard copies of these power points from the class website so that they can follow along and take notes on the actual document. For my more aural learners, I recommend the tried and true technique of recording the lecture so that they can listen to it later, though this should only ever be done after receiving permission from the professor.

2. It was Professor Plum, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick, or: The “Who, Where, How” (and When) of Studying on Your Own

Well, the “who” is pretty obvious (it’s the student), but it’s good to get students to think about the specific ways in which they work best. I ask my students questions like, “are you more focused when you work in the morning, afternoon, or at night? Do you study best in a group, alone at your desk, or alone but in a public space such as a library or coffee shop? Do you do better when you concentrate on one subject for a few hours before moving to another, or do you do better when you switch it up more frequently?” (i.e.- are you the kind of person who needs to eat all of her steak before she can move on to her potatoes, or do you follow a bite of steak with a bite of potato and maybe even a bite of asparagus before feeling ready for that next bite of steak?) Though we all eventually answer these questions for ourselves, I find that a little mindfulness can act as a catalyst for students to come up with their own solutions to study habit quandaries.

These are but a few of the tips and strategies I give to my students, but hopefully it shines a light (or a hi-light! Okay, I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitress!) on one of the most common pitfalls that can befall an at-risk student.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Three Easy Time Management Tips for Students

Three Easy Time Management Tips for Students

Upon re-reading the comments from my fall semester students on their success coach surveys (for a refresher, go to last week’s blog link to The Results are In!) , I realized that there was one comment which came up time and again. Many of my students, regardless of year, mentioned two particular “boulders in the road” that working with a success coach helped them to overcome: time management and study skills.

Study skills can seem like a no-brainer to most post-collegiate adults (though we will get into the complexities of this issue at a future date), I think we can all agree that time management is a skill not easily mastered by even the most conscientious of us. Over the course of the last four decades, I’ve been a student, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a working mom and graduate student, and a full-time teacher and success coach…and I’m still trying to master the art of time management! But, I can certainly testify to the fact that it’s a lot easier than it used to be because I’ve had…wait for it…practice! It takes time and experience to learn a skill like time management, and many first-time college students have had neither.

I always find it useful to remember that, upon entering college, most freshmen are not very familiar with managing their own time. Up to this point, much of their time has been managed by a confluence of parents, teachers, and coaches. Hours spent in high school are scheduled down to the minute, and an adult of some kind is almost always in charge of knowing where a student is assigned to be at all times. After school, there are practices and extra curricular activities; on the weekends, there are often family obligations and curfews. Then, a few short months after graduating from high school, students find themselves in college, entirely responsible for managing their own time and looking at a schedule that may involve only three or four hours of actual, scheduled class-time a day.

While some students can get lost in a surfeit of what appear to be free hours, others find themselves trying to fit what can seem like 25 hrs. worth of activity into 24 hr. days. Athletes, especially, can struggle because of the near full-time-job-like obligations imposed by some athletic programs. Many athletes juggle classwork and academic requirements with weightlifting sessions, early morning workouts, practices, and games – some of which may involve overnight stays or long drives to and from an away game. Thus, my athletes and I almost always have to have discussion about how to turn in assignments early or request a make-up test date prior (if possible) to a scheduled exam.

In addition, the management of coursework is often vastly different in college than in high school. Some high school teachers assign long-term projects or research papers, but more often work is done on a daily or weekly basis. In college, on the other hand, a student may enroll in a class in which there are two assignments for the entire semester, and the first of those two may be due a month or more from the start of class. As someone who can remember thinking that starting a paper at 8pm on a Sunday night seemed perfectly reasonable because it wasn’t due until 9am Monday morning (I’ll just pull an all-nighter! No big deal except…I’m only four pages in and I’m getting pretty sleepy…), I understand the learning curve. It takes time and experience to learn that writing a good ten or twenty-page paper, (and the sad truth is that some high school graduates have never been asked to write more than two pages at a time), takes more than eleven, coffee-saturated hours. It takes time to understand that starting a months-long project right away by breaking it into small, manageable pieces can save you an enormous amount of stress down the road.

And sometimes, it takes a success coach.

So how do I help my students develop this crucial skill? Here are three easy tips:

1. BECOME BFFs WITH YOUR PLANNER

I teach my students how to use and REALLY use planners, calendars, and whiteboards above their desks. You’d be surprised how many students have never made a weekly plan, and whether they put it all into their phones or copy it down on paper, the experience of laying out tasks both big and small in a way that enables a student to constantly keep track of their progress can make an enormous difference.

2. KNOW YOUR SYLLABUS!

Like…really really know your syllabus! You’d think students would refer to their syllabi more, but many don’t. And since so much information is now online, some live by the mantra-  “I’ll just check the site for that class when I need the information.” And while that’s a great way to find out about a exam the night before it is scheduled to take place, leading to a panicked cram session and cries of, “noooooooo! why didn’t I look at the syllabus sooooooooner?!”- it’s not a great way to plan your semester. So during our first or second meeting, my students and I always scrutinize the syllabi for each of their classes like a bootcamp drill sergeant inspecting barracks. We don’t miss an un-tucked bed sheet or even a speck of dust in the latrine, and it makes a difference.

3. USE “SPONGE MINUTES” TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

We all experience at least a few hours’ worth of “sponge minutes” every day. We stand in line. We arrive 10 minutes early to something that ends up starting 10 minutes late. In essence, “sponge minutes” are those minutes we could squeeze a little more out of if only we were prepared for them. I encourage my students to bring work with them everywhere. If they end up waiting in line in the dining hall for 7 minutes, that’s 7 minutes they can go over notes from the class they haven’t had in a couple of days. If they know it only takes them 10 minutes to get to their next class despite having 30 to do so, that’s 20 minutes more to brainstorm possible topics for a looming research paper.

Sometimes, I get students for whom time management is the primary boulder in the road. These are students who, with just a little steering, a little push, and a few good ideas about when and how to start that term paper, are able to take the ball and start running at full speed.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

The Results Are In

The Results Are In

And…drum roll please…the results are in!

Just before I turned off my blackberry and turned on the oven in preparation for a marathon session of holiday cooking, I received the email containing the grades of my fall semester students. Just as I predicted, it was a mix of good and bad news. Some students sprinted through the finish line, a couple limped just across, and one, well…one didn’t make it. But let’s get to the good news first!

Rebecca and Tracy: Rebecca and Tracy are the homesick freshmen from my previous blog, and in that post I predicted that both would end up with a bell-curve mix of As, Bs, and Cs. Well, both girls finished strong, ending the semester with GPAs above a 3.0!

In addition to Rebecca and Tracy, both of my other freshmen did beautifully. And while this means that they will most likely not be with me next semester, I plan to keep track of their progress and help them in whatever way I can.

Jay: Jay is the sophomore who came to me on warning status. Math is the subject with which he struggles most, but I predicted that he would pass and make Bs and Cs on everything else. Well, Jay did indeed squeak by with a D in math; however, his grades in the rest of his classes were worse than I had predicted. In addition to the D in math, he received two more Ds, one C, and a B, leaving him with a GPA of 1.8 for the semester. He has worked tremendously hard and is still fighting his way through work that is, for him, exceptionally challenging, but this semester’s efforts probably won’t get him off of academic warning.

Allison: Going into finals, Allison had 2 Bs and 3 Cs, including one in English which she needed to maintain in order to pass the class. I had been so nervous thinking about Allison over the past two weeks that when I received the email containing the fates of all of my students, I made a visual bee-line straight to Allison’s results. And then I saw it, staring at me like the big, fat F that it was. Despite doing well in almost all of her other classes, Allison managed to fail the one class she needed to pass in order to retain full-time enrollment status. My heart sank and my mind raced to think of all of the things that could have possibly gone wrong. Did she not study hard enough for the final? Did she blow it off for some inexplicable reason? Did she buckle under the pressure or psych herself out? I don’t know what Allison’s status will be now. If she’s lucky, she may be allowed to return next semester just to take English. If not, she will probably be dismissed.

Marco: Unfortunately, I saw the writing on the wall with Marco weeks ago. He’d stopped going to class, stopped coming to our meetings, and did not answer texts. It seemed to me as if Marco had just given up. So I wasn’t totally surprised when I read that Marco had flunked out of school, but I was saddened. I know what a particularly tough year this has been personally as well as academically for Marco, and I feel for him. Perhaps he felt so underwater trying to deal with the other setbacks in his life that the idea of writing a paper  on the themes of guilt and the social contract in Crime and Punishment simply was unfathomable. Perhaps he used those personal disappointments to complete a self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps he’s just making bad choices right now and needs a few years to mature. I don’t know.

My Results

In addition to receiving a report of my students’ grades in the last week, I also received their feedback. As I have discussed in previous blogs, our students as well as the professors in whose classes they have been enrolled are asked to fill out surveys at the end of each semester. These surveys become my report card, as it were, and I take their thoughts and comments very seriously. I also look for patterns, and this semester I found that one comment came up in almost every survey. In their own words, almost every one of my students remarked about how much it meant to them that they had someone to whom they could come with any question or issue, big or small. Two of my freshmen are the first in their families to attend college, and these students were especially appreciative that they had a single point person with whom they could meet, who both knew them and could really spend time with them one-on-one, to ask questions about navigating this complicated, exciting, often life-changing thing we call the college experience. Of course, there are myriad resources for students at any university- from RAs to deans to mental health professionals, from orientation workshops to freshman seminars- which help students do just that. However, there is something about having a success coach that, especially for students at risk, can make a huge difference.

One of the comments I am most proud of is from Tracy, who remarked in her survey that she wasn’t sure she would have made it to the end of the semester had it not been for the support of her success coach. To quote Tracy, “she believed in me, so I believed in myself.” Tracy’s success coach just happens to have been me, but each and every one of our coaches has received comments like this one from students this past semester and over the years. That’s what I try to remember when I think about Allison or Marco or, for that matter, the next Allisons and Marcos that might walk through my door in January.  As higher education administrators, faculty, and staff, we would all like to see our students graduate from our particular universities; however, first and foremost, we want to see them graduate. If Allison decides to take English at a community college before returning to my university or any other 4-year school, I will count that as a success. If it takes Marco a year or two or ten before he gets his act together, I hope that a seed planted during our time together may give him the determination to try again.

Now the New Year is upon us, and I am reminded that nothing becomes cliché which isn’t fundamentally true. So as we close the book on the old and bring in the new, I think of my students. Some have tasted the fruits of hard work and are ready for more. Some are reveling in the knowledge that they can do far more than they ever thought they could and now, maybe for the first time, see limitless possibilities on the horizon. Some are re-assessing their choices and goals. Some are trying to wipe the slate clean and start anew. As for me, I am waiting to meet another crop of students. Some will be familiar faces and others will be brand new, but to all of them I will say, “Happy New Year. We’re not looking back because you’re not going that way. Now…let’s get crackin’.”

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.