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Month: March 2013

Success Coaching Student Athletes

Success Coaching Student Athletes

Over the course of my tenure as a success coach, more than a few of my students have been athletes, and I would like to speak a bit about the unique challenges I’ve encountered and strategies that I’ve used in my work with these students.

The good thing about working with student athletes is that not only they, but you, become part of a team. Among professors, success coaches, advisors, athletic coaches, and the students themselves, there are always multiple people with a vested interest in a student athlete’s academic success. Athletic coaches, especially, can be great partners. In many cases, these coaches have personally recruited these students, provided them with scholarship money, and are now counting on them to be able to play. This, of course, cannot happen if the student is not academically eligible according to NCAA rules, which makes coaches doubly invested in each of his or her students’ academic success. When I am having trouble with student athletes either failing to turn in work, go to class, or show up for meetings with me, my first call is almost always to the coach. “I will take care of that today,” is a common response. So is, “that will not happen again,” and “I’m on it.” They always are. Because they are directly responsible for a student’s ability to play the sport they love, coaches can also provide carrots and sticks that the rest of us cannot. For example, last February (another frigidly cold, Ohio February…) I was working with two members of the soccer team who had problems both with not turning in assignments and lying about not turning in said assignments. So I called the soccer coach. Well, lo and behold, the next morning if those boys weren’t running suicides on the soccer field in sub-zero temperatures! We didn’t have to talk much about turning in assignments after that.

Because time management can be complicated for student athletes who have to juggle classwork with practices, workouts, and games, we also set up a variety of group-study resources for them. Every one of our athletic teams has a “study table” which meets for 6 hrs. or more a week under the supervision of an assistant coach or graduate student. Students can use these meetings in any way they want (group study, independent study, writing, research, tutoring), as long as they meet their weekly hour requirements. In addition, I have organized study sessions with small groups of my students who happen to all be struggling in the same area. Currently, I have four student athletes on three different teams who have started a weekly math tutoring session just outside my office.

But for all the “nuts and bolts,” ways in which we can support our student athletes’ academic endeavors, success coaches must also help some students overcome boulders of a more nuanced, psychological nature – mainly the idea that time on the field or court, and not the education, is the most important thing. Now, most of our student athletes do not come to college exclusively to play; sports are an important part of their lives, but they also have the goal of receiving a college degree. However, a few see academic work as simply the price they have to pay in order to stay eligible, as something to be tolerated in these few years before they start making millions and millions in the NBA or NFL. Some student athletes see education not just primarily but exclusively as a way to continue to participate in their real passion: sports. Thus, one of my primary jobs is to get student athletes to be able to look beyond their sport in order to understand the true value and importance of getting their degrees.

Five years ago, a freshman quarterback receiving a very large athletic scholarship walked into my office.  While he was amazing on the football field, he was young, pretty immature, and had entered school on academic probation. His mind was not on the benefits of college, but he knew he had to get his grades up in order to play, so he worked hard, kept it up all spring, and by the following fall he was eligible to play.  That fall, he did a great job as back-up quarterback, but academically did so poorly that he was dismissed from the university. The next year, he tried to go to another school to play football. The same thing happened and he was again dismissed. After being dismissed from his second school, he returned to our university. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years, so I was caught by surprise one day when, as we both were walking across campus, he spotted me. His walk quickly turned to a run and suddenly I found my 5’3″ frame enveloped in a bear hug. “You’re back?!” I asked. “Yes, I am,” he replied, “but this time I’m just here to get my college degree.” Since then, I have seen him often, usually in the library studying. He will graduate a mere six weeks from today.

Alright, now I’m off to cheer on our spring athletes. Go Dragons! But get your homework done first!

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.

Keeping Success Coaches Motivated

Keeping Success Coaches Motivated

I’ve spoken before about all of the things my success coach colleagues and I do to get and keep students motivated, but what about the coaches themselves? How do we keep new coaches motivated amidst the seemingly overwhelming amount of information thrown at them during training? How do we keep a coach, new or old, motivated during a semester in which he or she finds one or more of his or her students failing despite all the best efforts of the coach? This might seem an indulgent notion to blog about, but I think we’ve all seen or experienced first-hand the unintentional yet real impact an unmotivated teacher, professor, or coach can have on his or her students, especially if they are already at risk. So in the next few paragraphs, I’d like to discuss the things my colleagues and I do to ensure that we are always in a place to be of the utmost help to our students.

New coaches, especially, can run into motivational roadblocks. First of all, the fact that success coaches must be able to cover so many areas of expertise at once can be intimidating. Once, I had a new coach come to me after training. He said, “I’m overwhelmed by all of the information- by all of the skills involved in this job. I hope I can do this. I hope I can serve my students well.” I agreed that what we do involves a lot of information in areas in which we may or may not initially be experts, and I reminded him that he didn’t need to know everything as long as he knew how to send his students to the people who did know. “The most important thing is that you always have your students’ best interest at heart,” I told him. “If you feel you can do that, then you’ll be fine.”

Also, like eager, new social workers who find that they can’t fix every family or that even a caseload that brings them to the limits of their time and energy leaves deserving people without aid, new coaches can at times get locked into a “save the world” mentality that sets them up for disappointment, a sense of failure or even futility when they discover they cannot do it all. Even though our success coach program has consistently shown improvement in retention as well as student GPAs, not every student we coach will graduate. Not every student will reach the goals they have set for themselves. Even seasoned success coaches experience this sense of frustration and disappointment. To do our jobs well, we must make personal connections, and the only way to really make those personal connections is to become personally invested in each and every student. We’ve got to “buy in,” as it were, to “put some skin in the game,” or else everything else we’re telling these students about our support for them becomes meaningless. But that personal investment can leave us feeling impotent when we realize that, in the end, we cannot do the work for our students. Therefore, as personal as our connections become, we cannot take anything too personally. I, for example, cannot take it personally when a student bails on a midterm for which he or she and I have been preparing. I can’t take it personally when a student misses two meetings in a row, though I have been known to personally follow up on spurious excuses. For example, if you call me on my cell to tell me you are sick, don’t be surprised if I keep you on the line while simultaneously walking to your dorm, being told by your roommate that you are perfectly healthy and eating lunch in the dining hall, then walking to said dining hall to set the perfect trap. “Can’t choke down anything but soup,” you say? “Well, it looks to me like you’re currently having chicken….rice…and is that a biscuit or a yeast roll I see?” (Monthly cell phone bill? $75. Walking shoes? $40. The face on that student’s face when she realized I was in the dining hall? Priceless.)

One of the most helpful ways in which our success coaches stay motivated is to meet frequently with one another. Sometimes we invite speakers from different departments on campus to speak to us about things like changes in financial aid policy or course scheduling, but more often we meet just to ask questions, give professional advice, and brainstorm possible solutions to current problems other coaches may be facing with their students. We celebrate student success stories and remind ourselves, in the face of student setbacks, of a fundamental truth: that failure is never failure until the journey is over. We remind ourselves that, while a student may have failed out of school or simply left, his or her time with us was not for naught, and maybe in one or two or twenty years, that student will remember some of the things we talked about and think, “You know? I understand what my coach was trying to tell me know, and I think he or she was right about that.” Who knows? This thought may encourage a former student to go back to school, or start a business, or simply become a better father, mother, husband, wife, or employee.

Earlier this year, I borrowed some baby pictures from students around campus and took them to our first success coach meeting of the semester. I laid them all out on the table and said, “Eighteen years ago, most of our freshmen looked like this. When these babies were born, somebody loved them and raised them and wanted the very best for them. Now these human beings are grown-up and going off to college, but they’re still somebody’s babies. Make sure you give them your very best.”

And they do.

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 Integration of the CARMA Model and the Aviso Coaching Retention Solution

The Integration of the CARMA Model and the Aviso Coaching Retention Solution

In my previous post, I addressed how the coaching methodology used by Aviso Coaching is based on some of the essential foundational student development theories. This is done because it is central to our belief that coaching must support and engage in the development of each individual student to his or her fullest potential. This intention is also clearly the guiding principles behind the architecture of Aviso coaching software.

The Aviso coaching software is the retention solution that helps students, coaches, and colleges achieve critical higher education goals.  How the software helps all of these actors is found in its holistic approach to student engagement.

Ultimately, student success is predicated on students accepting responsibility for their own goals and plans to achieve those goals. This belief is core to all of the theoretical models we use for our CARMA model of coach training and student support. What is equally clear in our theoretical foundation is that institutional support in helping students navigate the various challenges they will encounter in higher education is critical. Students not only have to navigate through academic, career, and financial challenges, they must also steer through their integration into the campus community while maintaining their own multi-role busy schedules. The Aviso software supplements and improves the quality of coaching by identifying critical challenges students encounter in the CARMA model. By pulling student data from both the institution’s Student Information System and Learning Management Systems, real-time alerts are generated for interventions by coaches when triggered by student behaviors or non-behaviors. Some of the core alerts that can generate interventions using the CARMA models are as follows:

1) Collegiate Needs

– Has the student paid tuition? Does the student need financial aid assistance?
– Does the student have housing and a meal plan?
– Has the student registered for classes? Do classes align with the student graduation plan?

2) Academic Engagement Needs

– What is the student activity in the course he/she is attending?
– Could the student benefit from tutoring or peer instruction?
– How often have they logged into his/her courses?
– Has he/she turned in assignments in a timely way?

3) Relationships, Social Integration and Involvement Needs

– Coaches receive a nightly digest of all alerts sent to students in their caseload assignments. This provides an easy way for them to monitor students assigned to them.
– Notifications of these alerts can be sent to both the student and coach. With the communication tools in Aviso both the student and coach can quickly check in with one another to determine if more in depth conversations need to occur or whether other campus resources and individuals need to be included.
– Coaches are also trained to encourage students to develop personal relationships with peers, professors and professionals in their field of study, thereby increasing the interpersonal bond with individuals at the institution.

4) Meaning and Career Exploration Needs

– Each student identifies his/her academic and career goals in the Aviso system. Progress is measured against these goals
– Campus resources for career planning are aligned so to help the student prepare and succeed with their transition after college.
– Coaches can also be prompted to periodically assess if the student is find the course of study personally fulfilling and challenging.

5) Actualization and Student Success.

– Post graduation plans can be documented for use by institutional outcomes assessment professionals, alumni offices and career services professionals.
– Exit surveys can be configured to document student satisfaction and other information.

While this is a sampling of some of the events that can trigger an alert and a coaching intervention in Aviso, more are being added and customized to each institutional setting.

The multi dimensional aspects of the Aviso software provides a platform for a campus professional to share desktop space with a student to plan, intervene, and encourage success. In the end, many of the essential foundational student development theories can be synthesized as the following. That students face many different challenges while attending higher education. While the ultimate source of success rest with the student, with the proper and timely support and intervention from campus professionals, student success can be dramatically improved and the learning experienced enhanced. In short, Aviso helps builds an intelligent, data driven, campus-wide learning community where students and campus members working together can address student challenges to achieve student academic success.

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.

Coaching Non-Traditional Students Part 2: Veterans

Coaching Non-Traditional Students Part 2: Veterans

Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, colleges and universities have had a greater influx of veterans entering college after serving in a war zone than at any time since The Vietnam War. According to the Center for American Progress (Center for American Progress, Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom) more than 400,000 veterans enrolled in institutions of higher education for the 2012 spring semester. Many of these veterans are working toward college degrees by taking advantage of the benefits provided to them under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill; according to a Veterans Affairs and accountability report, the United States government by way of this new G.I. bill invested more than $7.7 billion in 2011 alone to fund education and training for 555,000 veterans or their dependents.

However, despite the increased financial support offered by the G.I. Bill as well as an increasing understanding of veterans’ issues on the part of colleges and universities, returning veterans still face unique challenges when it comes to higher education, including navigating complex administrative systems, reintegrating themselves into civilian, social networks, and the obvious challenges brought on by deployment-related disabilities such as PTSD.

Of course, there are many ways in which military service makes veterans ideally suited for college life. If there’s one thing that veterans of the United States military don’t need to be told, it’s how to get to places on time. Or, for that matter, how to stay motivated. In fact, many of the things that can be difficult for a student straight out of high school (time management, work ethic, independence, decision making, etc.) are often a piece of cake for veterans. These students have been trained to be where they need to be, when they need to be there, then buckle down and get the job done, whether that job is searching for IEDs in an abandoned mine in Helmand Province or writing ten pages on Keynesian economics.

Unfortunately, both of those jobs can, at times, seem easier than navigating administrative bureaucracy, especially when one is combining the bureaucracy of a college or university with that of the United States government. Thus, a lot of the support we give to our veterans at my university begins with everyone’s favorite thing: paperwork. It is extremely important to our student veterans that they have a point person at the university who can take care of their paperwork, and they don’t trust just anyone to get it right. That’s why every veteran who comes on to our campus receives a personal advisor. This advisor is familiar with not just university bureaucracy but also the ins and outs of military bureaucracy and the G.I. Bill. Even if a certain add/drop form needs to go to the registrar or a check to the bursar’s office, student veterans will often send an extra copy to their advisor so that they know their paperwork is all in one place and is being overseen by a single person who they know and trust. This process is becoming even more effective and streamlined as more and more of this documentation goes online. When students can click a mouse and see all of their paperwork online, connect to their advisor for questions, and make sure their financial aid is in order, they feel even more relieved and reassured knowing that someone has their back.

While all veterans returning from a deployment or a life in the military go through some sort of soldier-to-civilian readjustment, that social and cultural transition can be felt especially acutely on a college campus. For one thing, some veterans are somewhat or significantly older than their new classmates. Last year, one of our advisors worked with a student veteran who was starting college in his late 30s after having spent twenty years in military. When he and his advisor met he said, “I don’t know how it’s going to feel being in a class full of 20-year olds.” As this particular advisor was also working on a degree at the time, she could relate, and she told him that while he might feel out of place the first few classes, after a week or two he wouldn’t even notice. With others, it’s the wide gulf of experience rather than age that makes it difficult to connect to their peers. The percentage of people on a given college campus who understand what military life is like or have been to war can be very small, and returning veterans can sometimes feel like there’s no one on campus who understands where they are coming from. This can lead students to feel isolated, and as we all know, feelings of social isolation can be detrimental to a student’s chances of staying in school. We have a veterans club on campus, but also, advisors and success coaches can help student veterans transition successfully from soldier to student by connecting them with other veterans, helping to translate the nuances of this new, social world, and simply being someone who will listen and support them as they re-adjust.

Finally, while all of our veterans are in some way changed by their experiences in the military, some return from war more scarred than others. Veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq experiencing symptoms of PTSD or traumatic brain injury walk through university doors every day, and it is our job as success coaches and advisors to ensure that they get the resources they need to walk out of those doors wearing caps and gowns. It is our job to make sure that students feel comfortable seeking out psychological services, or telling the people who need to know (professors, friends) what they are going through. One student I worked with only felt comfortable talking about his PTSD to the few professors he knew were also ex-military. Luckily, on the day when a construction crew working on a roof dropped something from a lift, which shattered at a deafening volume upon hitting the road, consequently triggering flashbacks for this particular student, he was in the classroom with one of those few professors.

Student veterans come to college seeking what all college students seek: an education that prepares them for a better, more successful life. It is our job to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure they get it.

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 Brilliant Underachiever: Coaching Bright Students Who Struggle

The Brilliant Underachiever: Coaching Bright Students Who Struggle

Over the span of my career, I have worked with bright and/or gifted students of all ages and have found that intelligence alone is no guarantee of success. And while colleges’ struggles with retention often have more to do with students who enter the university setting academically under-prepared for the content and rigor of college-level material, I have seen more than my share of very bright, capable students on the verge of failing out of school.

Barring things like financial, family, or medical issues that can, unfortunately, hamper a student’s ability to stay enrolled; most of these bright students find themselves facing boulders of a more psychological nature. Here are 3 common manifestations of what I have come to refer to as “smart student syndrome.”

1. The “heretofore under-stimulated” student: I had one student in particular, a freshman named Eli, who suffered from this strain of “smart student syndrome.” Eli came from a very small, rural school district with few advanced level classes and little special programming for bright students. Because of this Eli felt, not surprisingly, unchallenged in school. However, this was the only reality Eli knew, so his 13 years of experience had convinced him that that’s just how school was: not challenging and thus boring. Eli brought this same mentality into the college setting, and his grades started to suffer almost immediately. During one of our meetings, I asked Eli about a particular class he was taking in International Security Studies. He told me that he was bored and that he thought the professor was dumbing down the material for the class. I asked, “Well, what interests you about this subject? What would you like to learn?” His eyes brightened and he immediately started talking animatedly about his interests. “Okay then,” I offered, “why don’t you go to your professor and bring up this very topic with him. If there’s anything professors love most, it’s when a student actually shows interest in the subject in which they have spent their careers becoming knowledgeable, and maybe you will become more invested in the class as a result!” Eli gave me the deer-in-headlights look I almost always get from students when I suggest instigating a one-on-one conversation with a professor, but he agreed to give it a shot. When Eli walked into my office later that week, he was gushing. “Did you know that Professor Carradine came here straight from a career at the Pentagon?!” Apparently, Eli and Professor Carradine had spoken for more than an hour, and from then on International Security Studies was his favorite class.

2. The “hasn’t adapted to the New World Order” student: Alright, it’s time to make a confession. I am a former “hasn’t adapted to the New World Order,” sufferer of smart student syndrome. Just like the students whose experiences in K-12 education convince them that school is not challenging and therefore a waste of time, there are others who come to different yet equally wrong conclusions. For me, it wasn’t that school was boring (in fact, I was that kid who loved school so much that she would remind teachers when they had forgotten to assign homework- a tendency for which I would like to now publicly apologize) but that school was easy and therefore often didn’t require all that much work. Yes, there were teachers who pushed me, who challenged me to achieve my full potential, and I was incredibly self-motivated when it came to subjects about whom I was passionate, but I never had to work as hard as some other students did to get good grades. Then I went to college and everything changed. After a brief but significant learning curve, I realized that in order to succeed in college I would have to work much harder than I ever had previously, but that realization didn’t happen overnight. And now, as a success coach, I see the same delayed revelation in some of the students who end up in my office. When these students find themselves on academic probation or warning, most are shocked. “How can this be?!” they ask incredulously. It’s as if they’ve been driving a car on paved roads for years, and then one day they try to drive a car on a lake. When the car starts sinking, their initial reaction is to say, “Something’s wrong with this car!” when in reality, there are different types of vehicles one needs for navigating different environments. Usually, with these students, my job is all about speeding up that learning curve by making them aware of the change that has occurred. “College is not high school,” I remind them. And since these students usually enjoy being pushed and challenged once they’ve wrapped their minds around what is expected of them, they come to thrive.

3. The “paralyzed by the prospect of failure” student: This might be the most virulent form of smart student syndrome and, unfortunately, there is no definitive cure. Some students are simply so terrified of the prospect of ever being wrong, of “failing” even a little bit, that they’d rather quit mid-journey or not try at all. They think, “If I can’t do this as easily or as well as I have been able to do things in the past, then I don’t want to do it!” Sometimes, this need to always be perfect has been instilled by parents or a particular school environment and sometimes it is self-imposed, but regardless of the origin, it can inch very capable students toward the edge of an academic cliff. I have seen students bomb multiple choice tests because of their inability to make a decision when not 100% sure they are correct. Or drop a class because they got a C on the midterm. Or fail a class because they were too afraid to admit to anyone that they needed help.  As with the “new world order” students, awareness is important. I remind them that they are not supposed to know everything at the age of 18 or 20 (or 30 or 40 or…), and that even if they were the smartest kid at their high school, a lot of college students were the smartest kids at their respective high schools. I tell them, “college resets the bar, and the most important thing is not that you are perfect but that you are on the path to achieving your goals. Thomas Edison once famously said that he was only able to invent the light bulb because of the thousands of times he failed at inventing the light bulb, and if failure is good enough for Thomas Edison, well….”

Recently, I read a book about the differences in traditionally “western” and “eastern” pedagogy focused, in part, on the idea that while western cultures often put the idea of “intelligence” on a pedestal, eastern cultures focus much more on the importance of perseverance and the value of struggle. By the time they get to college, some of my students who’ve spend nearly two decades being told how “smart” they are find themselves under performing, or even failing, because they have yet to hone these less “testable” but equally important life skills.  Our job as success coaches, as always, is to help these students become not only better educated but also stronger, wiser, and better able to tackle whatever challenges college life may throw at them.

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.