I’ve spoken before about the importance of the first meeting between a success coach and a new student. Pretty obviously, the success of these meetings is crucial because it’s when first impressions are made, and thus when students decide if attending coaching sessions is just another onerous obligation- another mandated box they must check in order to graduate- or if is something in which they see the value. There are many aspects to a first meeting with students, but all of these are in service of a specific goal: that when my student walks out of my office, he or she knows three things.
1. “I know that my success coach is here to do anything and everything in his or her power to help me achieve my goals.”
If nothing else, students should leave the first meeting with a success coach with the absolute certainty that their coach has their back. I want my students to understand, even in the first 30 minutes, that I really do care about them, and that I want them to succeed just as much as they do. I also want them to know that, in the area of success, we have a very good track record.
2. “I know that my success coach actually has a lot of connections and knows how to connect me with all available resources.”
Whether it’s knowing who to call when a student has a financial aid issue, connecting a student with a particular professor or tutoring group for extra help, or simply knowing about the myriad academic and social opportunities available on campus, it’s important that students know that I am a one-stop-liaison for any and all kinds of help on campus.
3. “I know that, at each meeting, my success coach and I are going to set concrete, achievable goals, and that she is going to FOLLOW UP in an effort to make sure I am on top of them.”
Number three is really a two-parter. I want students to feel the relief that comes with knowing that we are going to break this process down into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will they be asked to fix everything all at once. However, I also want them to understand that, because these session-by-session goals will be small and concrete, there are concrete ways in which I can and WILL check to see if they are taking care of business. If they have any doubt, they can ask any of my former students, all of whom know that if I ever got a face tattoo of my philosophy in this arena, “trust but verify” would be forever etched across my forehead.
If, at the end of his or her first meeting with me, I’ve succeeded in imparting these three lessons to a student, there’s a good chance that student feels more empowered, confident, and supported than before he or she walked in the door. For example, just a few days ago I met for the first time with a freshman who barely squeaked through our admissions process (so close to the line that he didn’t get through the NCAA clearinghouse that would enable him to play his sport this year). At some point that afternoon, he struck up a conversation with a colleague of mine who works in the office of the Dean of Students. “A few days ago, I was really scared,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how people were going to be or if I’d make friends, but now I feel so much better! Everyone’s been really nice, I like all my professors, and,” he continued, “I have a success coach who’s going to make sure I get my stuff done!”
Over the course of our meeting, I had seen first-hand this young man’s expression change from one of deep anxiety to relief- the feeling of relief that can only come from realizing that he was not alone, that there were people here in this brave new world who really wanted him to succeed. It’s a good feeling.
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.