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Month: February 2013

The Newspaper Editor

The Newspaper Editor

One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor”. Sure, I create both short and long-term deadlines with all of my students, but there are certain students for whom this becomes my primary role. These are the students who may be academically capable with stable support networks from family and friends. They may not have to deal with the financial stresses that plague some students.  They may even have good time management and study skills, yet for some reason they falter when they lack a point person to whom they know they must be accountable. In other words, they need a cigar-chomping, old-school newspaper editor yelling, “Wilson! That article about rampant corruption in the alderman’s office better be on my desk by the time we go to print or your sorry keister’ll be pushin’ paper down in the mail room for the next six months!”

This idea of accountability is not limited to education. It’s why some people diet or try to quit smoking in pairs or teams. It is, in part, why some people see personal trainers and therapists. The older we get, the more we realize that there are some things in life we simply won’t work as hard at or stick to the program as faithfully when left to our own devices, so we seek out and gratefully embrace others to whom we must be accountable. We seek out newspaper editors of our own.

For my students who have trouble completing work or turning things in on time, I often “invite” them to work on assignments in the library, which also happens to be near my office. At first, many invariably balk. Not only are beginning college students tempted by the idea of studying in their pajamas in the comfort of their own rooms, but also many are simply unused to studying in a place like a library. Many figure: “I studied in my room in high school, and I did fine! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, studying in one’s room in high school rarely mirrors the distractions and temptations that can hamper one’s ability to study in a room in a college dorm. (Everybody take a second to fully remember the most distracting and/or tempting moments in your own college dorm… and we’re back.) For those who are reluctant to start working in a more focused space, I simply say, “Just take a test drive.” You’re free at this particular time on this particular day, and I’ll be near by working with other students, so give it a shot.”

Once there, we set a goal as to how much work needs to be completed before they leave, and I require that they show me the finished product before taking off. Almost immediately, they see results. They discover that they have a private place to work with fewer distractions. And most importantly, they realize that because they know they have to show me their work by the time they leave, they actually (gasp!) get it done! Often, this trial run creates true believers out of skeptics.  I find that students leave feeling proud and excited about what they have been able to accomplish- from there, it becomes easier to invite them to work in the library again because they have learned the value of it. One of my former students, a young woman who returned this fall after an internship at a government agency in Washington, D.C., was one of these students. Recently, she knocked on my door and said, “I would not be standing here right now if it weren’t for you.” I asked her what she meant by that. In the midst of a hug she replied, “You taught me how to just get it done.”

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.

A Half Hour in the Life of a Success Coach

A Half Hour in the Life of a Success Coach

While I’ve blogged a lot about the various jobs a success coach has overall, it occurs to me that I haven’t put all of that into the context of a single meeting. And while every session is always in some way unique, there is, on average, a “typical” structure to a normal meeting with students.


I meet with my students twice a week for a half hour at a time, and there are certain things we do at every single session. Almost always, the first thing I do with a student is check his or her goals from our last meeting. Have the short term goals (schedule a meeting with a professor, turn in a financial aid form, catch up on the reading for a certain class) been accomplished? What progress has been made on long term goals like projects or papers? Next, we move on to their learning center hours. All students enrolled in the success coach program must log in a certain numbers of hours in either the library or learning center each week, and they are required to sign in and out each time. So, before moving on to the bigger stuff, I check to make sure they have met their required hours. Then we move onto the syllabus. We read through either a hard copy or online version of the syllabus point by point, checking to see whether anything has changed, making sure that the student is aware of all assignments past and present as well as reminding him or her of upcoming tests or papers that loom in the near future. Then we make a list of goals for our next meeting.


At least once a week, my students and I get online and check their grades. Most of our professors post grades online, but I give those who don’t a hard copy of a “scorecard” which my students can then use to keep track of how they are doing. In addition to just checking the grades, I work through the math with them so that they fully understand what is required of them either to maintain a grade or improve on one. We analyze the percentage of graded work that is already in the can and talk about what that means going forward. And that’s about the time I realize how much “checking” my job entails, because then it’s time to check…email! You’d be surprised how many students don’t check their university emails. Oh, they’ll check Facebook and Twitter and text messages and even their other email accounts, but since notices from the registrar are generally less exciting than juicy photos from last weekend’s rage-till-dawn party, university email somehow seems to get lost in the shuffle. For most students, this is also a good time to check (again with the checking!) their plans to implement certain study skills as well as their retention of reading/lecture material. For example, I require some of students to print out power points of lectures and write notes on the power point guidelines during class; for others, I ask them to take notes in a separate notebook. At least once a week, I will check these notes to make sure students are A) actually implementing the plan and B) taking notes effectively. Then, depending on the student, I may ask them to summarize what a particular professor said in the last lecture or quiz them on a chapter they were recently required to read for comprehension. I try to make these interactions less like interrogations and more like conversations, and it’s always a good meeting for me when the conversation organically goes deeper- when a question about a paragraph in a marketing text book gets a student jazzed to discuss the psychology of persuasion as used in modern advertising, or when a professor’s lecture on Crime and Punishment leads to a conversation about how time and place both do and do not affect a person’s concept of morality.


A few times a semester, it’s important to talk with students about their co-curricular credits. At my university, we require students to earn 13 hours of “co-curricular” credits in professional development (attending guest speaker events and/or workshops on resume writing, etiquette, and interview techniques) and 13 hours doing community service. Students enter freshman year knowing about these requirements, but as it is so easy to become preoccupied by the things that are due today, tomorrow, or next week, these long-term requirements often get put on the back burner. Some students intend to complete their co-curricular credits but get too busy or forget, while others consciously put them off thinking, “I’m a genius! I’ll complete all my academic credit hours and then do all of my co-curricular credits right before graduation!” Also, I always try to keep my students on track with the intricacies of registration. At the beginning of our time together, I have all my students create a four-year plan. Sure, things can change, but the very act of making a four-year plan can take a student a long way toward seeing the end-game of his or her college goals. It’s also useful because students learn that not all classes are offered every semester and that they need to plan their schedules accordingly. Maybe this core requirement is only offered in the spring every odd year, or every year but only in the fall. Students are often unaware that college courses are not necessarily A) offered every semester or B) easy to register for even when they are offered. Making a plan plants the seed in students’ minds that course registration is something that requires a bit of thought.


And sometimes I throw everything about a “typical” meeting out the window because life steps in. Sometimes I spend the entire session walking to the financial aid office with a student and translating acronyms into a language he can understand. Sometimes we simply figure out a way she can co-exist better with her roommate. Sometimes we talk about family dynamics that are making it harder for him to focus on his studies. Sometimes we console her about the death of a loved one. Sometimes we try to convince him to see a counselor because he is not psychologically healthy enough to do all the things he needs to do right now.


I do a lot of motivating. I do a lot of celebrating. At least once per session I ask my students, “what’s something you feel really good about this week?” Once, one of my student’s answers to that question was: “I got the highest grade in the entire class on an exam that was really difficult!” We immediately left the office, walked down to the coffee shop, and had mochas and croissants to celebrate. It was a good half hour in the life of a success coach.

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.

Welcome To The Future: Using Technology To Aid Student Achievement

Welcome To The Future: Using Technology To Aid Student Achievement

Let me guess. As you read this blog, you’ve got at least three more tabs open on your browser. Oh, did your smartphone just alert you that you have a text? It’s okay, you can check it; i’ll wait. Are you back? Great. Let me just send this tweet while I close this youtube video and…..we’re back.

Well, folks. The robots have won. We are plugged-in, online, uploaded, downloaded and, some would say, overloaded by technology. The debate continues to rage as to the cost to benefit ratio of this new world order, and I do not aim to solve this debate in the small space of this blog. However, I do want to discuss the ways in which technology has helped my students overcome obstacles to achievement as well as the ways in which it has made my job as a success coach easier and more effective.

Since the advent of the internet more than twenty years ago, technology has been revolutionizing the world of higher education. However, in the last ten years we have witnessed exponential change. First came practical changes, such as online course registration, class webpages, and Then came google, wikipedia, youtube, and myriad other resources that students now use to research, study, and acquire information. Then colleges and universities discovered that the internet could be used not just as a research tool but as the classroom itself. Now, the idea of online education has gone even further to include things like the Khan Academy and “MOOCS” (Massive Open Online Courses).

In my work as a success coach for on-campus students, there are a few key pieces of technology that I have seen change the entire direction of a student’s education. One piece of software that I frequently use is often provided to our students who are working with learning disabilities, but I have found that it can be helpful for any student. This program can upload any textbook onto a flash drive, then read the book aloud to the student. This software is not just a book on tape; it also allows students to select different languages and adjust speed. It is connected to a dictionary, so students can click on any word and learn its definition immediately. This is particularly good for our international students, who benefit from being able to hear and read American English simultaneously.

Additionally, this program helps students organize their notes by allowing them to highlight important portions of text which then are transferred to a study sheet that a student can review digitally or print out as a hard copy. Imagine you’re a student who learns best aurally, or a student athlete who must make time to study while riding on a bus to and from away games. Oh, and you are also prone to motion sickness when you read while in transit. I have seen students in both camps go from Cs and Ds to As and Bs simply because they could listen to their textbooks on their laptops, mp3 players, or phones.

Of course, this program and others like it is just the tip of the iceberg. So with all these technological resources available to students with the click of a mouse or, now, simply a swipe of a finger, you’d wonder why today’s techno-savvy students ever have any trouble at all! Many students don’t have trouble, but I work with the ones who do, and I’ve learned that some students just can’t or don’t find these resources themselves. Sometimes they don’t know that these resources exist. Sometimes they may have a vague idea that there are technological resources out there, but they simply aren’t motivated enough to find them on their own.

For many of my students, they are most likely to follow through to the finish line when a success coach like myself sits down and does it with them. I understand. At times, all of us need to be guided step-by-step through things that are difficult to understand or that we simply put off because we are not motivated to do them. Some people take to new technologies easily, but others are intimidated (me), easily frustrated (me), yet ultimately grateful to have learned something once someone shepherded us through the process of figuring it out (me, me, me).

Part of my job as a success coach, then, is not just to engage with students reactively, but to proactively look for newer and better resources that might help them succeed. I seek out new innovations not just in pedagogy, but in technology. While we may and should continue the debate about the benefits and drawbacks of technology in our colleges and universities for years to come, we should never ignore the practical, on-the-ground solutions- the little things- that can make a big difference.

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.

Coach Training Based on a Firm Theoretical Foundation

Coach Training Based on a Firm Theoretical Foundation

When designing our program for training coaches we turned to some traditional student development theories and learning models as a basis for our foundation. We have done this because central to our belief is that coaching must support and engage the development of each student and to help each individual achieve his or her full potential. At its heart, coaching is the proactive effort to assist in student development and to improve their situations by facing their academic, career and life challenges through a problem-solving process. When we are successful in this, we have aided in the development of a self-directed learner and have increased the probability of retention and student success as a positive outcome for the institution.

Our Model: CARMA Student Needs Theory

Students exhibit different needs as they transition into higher education, become accustomed to college and achieve their educational goals. Our CARMA Student Needs Theory provides a sound framework that is used to identify the various levels of student needs as well as the appropriate resources, referrals or interventions to meet those specific needs.

CARMA is an acronym for the first letter of each of the five major levels of the theoretical model:

  1. Collegiate Needs
  2. Academic Engagement Needs
  3. Relationships, Social Integration and Involvement Needs
  4. Meaning and Career Exploration Needs
  5. Actualization and Student Success

The CARMA model is built upon and influenced by several well known educational researchers and human and student development theorists. Let us share a few with you.

Our Foundation

Abraham Maslow, Alexander Asitin, Arthur Chickering and John Holland all provided critical insights for us. Here are some of the key concepts we have pulled into our CARMA model.

Maslow believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential and to reach a level of “self-actualization.” He believed that helping people achieve self-actualization requires addressing specific needs.  As the base of the pyramid he identified physiological needs. Moving up the pyramid the needs progress though levels that include safety, love/belonging, and esteem. The pinnacle level is self-actualization. The take away that we incorporated into our model is that coaches must develop the ability to recognize student challenges at the lower levels prior to addressing work on higher ones. Our training is grounded on this insight.

Astin, in his theory of student involvement, believed that the quality and quantity of the student’s involvement influences the amount of student learning and development in college. In short, Astin’s Theory of Involvement states that students learn more the more they are involved in both the academic and social aspects of the collegiate experience. Coaches need to recognize that both in class and out of class experiences contribute to student success and help students succeed.

Chickering identified seven vectors of development, which contribute to the development of identity. These vectors can be thought of as a series of stages or tasks. For coaching, helping students identify barriers to development in the various vectors is the first step to success in college.   For coaching, helping students identify boulders that may be more grounded in managing emotions and establishing identity may be necessary prior to discussing academic and career goals.  Like Astin, Chickering reinforces the belief that success in college is more than academic competency and his theory provides insight to and a road map of those areas that may require attention.

John Holland’s work on career interests and vocational personality is central to our coaching efforts. Holland identified six vocational interest patterns. Most individuals have two or three that dominate. By being aware of one’s Holland Code, a bevy of career related information and resources become available for student use and consideration during career exploration process. Making a satisfying major and career decision is often critical in helping a student develop meaning in their academic program and for his or her success in it.

Other Theorists

Some other theorists we have used to help us build the CARMA model include Donald Super and his career self-concept; Martin Seligman and the positive psychology movement; and Vince Tinto on retention of college students. Collectively, the theorist we have selected all recognize that the responsible actor in college success must be the student. However, with focused assistance, the path to success can be made much easier for them with coaching.


In short, we have built our coach training on firm theoretical and research grounds. So when it comes to helping students with the challenges they face, our approach is not to find a quick fix, but to contribute to the institutional and higher education mission of learning and student development.

Dr. George Steele is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Learning Network (OLN). Before his work at OLN, George directed the advising program at The Ohio State University for undecided and major-changing undergraduate students. George has written publications addressing academic and career advising theory, use of technology in advising, and assessment of the use of technology for student services and distance learning. George has been a member of the National Academic Advising Association for over 25 years, has held numerous leadership positions in that organization and has been recognized by it for his work and contributions.


Finding Great Success Coaches

Finding Great Success Coaches

We have been fortunate at my institution during the past several years, to be able to hire excellent Success Coaches. All of them are part-time employees and they like it that way. Almost all are retired from their careers and just want to work a few hours a week doing something that is rewarding and allows them to use their skills and experience to help young students. We have individuals whose careers included serving as high school counselors, teachers, human resource manager, college learning center director, adjunct professors, and men and women who have worked in business or government.

Most of our coaches have inquired about the positions because someone told them about our program. I have already had two guidance counselors from neighboring school districts who want to be part of this endeavor when they retire in the next year or so.  For teachers and guidance counselors, it is a natural fit. One of the first things we discuss in an interview with a potential coach is his or her love of young people and the patience sometimes required to see results. After all, our students are EMERGING adults.

We know that being a good and intuitive listener is vital, as well as having or being able to learn strategies for managing the many different boulders that students face. We talked about “The Many Faces of a Success Coach” in a previous post and discussed what skills and abilities are needed to be effective. I orient new coaches to our coaching methodology and introduce them to the resources available on campus for students who need help in any aspect of college life.  Speakers and workshops on various topics are provided for our coaches during the year and we share with each other tips that have worked for us in our coaching.

We have a really great coach this semester who lives about 60 miles from the University. She comes in once a week to meet with her students for a half hour each, then uses Skype from her home to meet with them the second half hour.  One of the Success Coach offices has a camera on the computer for this purpose. Students go to the office on a specific day and time to meet with the coach. It is working very well and enables us to hire good coaches from some distance away.

All of us use email, mobile phone and texting to keep in touch with students during the week. Our coaches who also happen to be grandparents love the response they get when their grandchildren learn that “Grandma can text?!” Yes, for some it has been an adventure into the world of cyberspace. We are awaiting the next new technological device that will make communicating even easier.

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.