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3 Work Habits of Productive Students

3 Work Habits of Productive Students

It’s not easy to buckle down and get things done- just ask Congress! But seriously folks, even after years in the professional world, we all still have days where we sit in front of the computer, the internal monologue of our brains sounding like a car that won’t turn over. We are trying our best to knock out that grant proposal, or powerpoint presentation, or poem- but we just can’t focus. And then, of course, it really does feel like time for a muffin…

Not surprisingly, students also run into problems with focus when trying to complete assignments, study, or write papers- problems that can be compounded when combined with issues like a lack of motivation or comprehension of the material, as is often the case with students who end up on academic probation or warning.

Right now, I have two students in particular who have been having trouble. For Jenna, the issue is both motivation and comprehension. Fernando, on the other hand, is genuinely motivated. He’s also a social butterfly, so for him, it’s about distractions. He will start his work in my office or a solitary corner of the library, but by the time he’s gotten back to the dorm to finish up, he’s encountered four or five better offers than another two hours trying to hammer out the next paragraph on the economics of social migration in ancient Mesoamerica.

Working with these two students has rekindled my interest in studying the ways in which students can optimize their ability to focus and be productive. Here are 3 “musts” for getting things done:

1. Make Space and Time

It was a recent interview (

with the youngest daughter of author Roald Dahl that reminded me of the importance of both creating a physical space conducive to work as well as mandating (and keeping to) a regular time commitment in order to do it. According to Lucy Dahl, “His hut was a sacred place…he sat in his mother’s old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk. His work sessions were very strict — he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day. Even if there was nothing to write he would still, as he would say, ‘put his bottom on the chair.’ ”

2. Optimize your space for “Closed” and “Open” Modes

A few weeks ago, I watched a lecture on creativity by comedy icon John Cleese ( In it, he espouses the idea of two “modes” of operating- open, where we take a step back, brainstorm, look at the task at hand as a whole- and closed, where we hone in on specific decisions and implement them. This made me think of the different ways in which my students must approach something like a paper in its initial stages- choosing a topic, research, coming up with a thesis- versus the “closed mode” task of putting words on the page. Some of my students excel in the open mode and can tell me verbatim exactly what they want to do and how they plan to do it but have difficulty executing the work. Others have the capacity to write a really good paper in very little time…if they could only figure out what they want to write about. Consequently, I am continuing to look for ways in which students can create the kind of space and time optimal for each of these modes. (For example, another radio interview I heard recently

discussed a study that found that a neat work area was more conducive to structured tasks, while a messy one inspired more creativity.)

3. Remove Distractions

According to the American Psychological Association, multiple studies have shown not only that the idea of “multitasking” is a myth (we are merely switching back and forth between tasks) but also that our distracted, “multitasking” culture is actually making us less efficient, not more. It may be especially difficult to convince students who have grown up doing their homework amidst checking texts and updating their facebook status’ that they will be well served by trying their best to remove distractions, but…hold on, I just got a notice that it’s my turn on Words With Friends…ok, now what was I saying?

We’ve all had those times when we’re riding the wave. These are the spans of work time when thoughts and words flow easily, and when we consume page after page of reading with both speed and comprehension. Because we are focused and “in the moment”, hours can go by in what seems like minutes. Suddenly we’ve finished that insurmountable project without entirely remembering what seemed so daunting in the first place. We’ve also felt that terrifying sensation of, “my brain has gone inexplicably blank! This thing is due by tomorrow morning and I’ve got absolutely nothing!” These are the same feelings my students go through, and because they have less experience than many of us do, they’re doing it all like Ginger Rogers…backwards and in heels.

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.

Drop-Out Prevention and Alternatives for At-Risk College Students

Drop-Out Prevention and Alternatives for At-Risk College Students

College dropouts face tremendous challenges: fewer job opportunities, lower earning ability and lower socio-economic status. According to a paper published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 47 percent surveyed say that dropping out of school made it hard to find a good job.

Those who graduate with a post-secondary degree earn on average nearly $20,000 more annually than those with a GED or high school diploma. Obtaining a diploma is the first and most important step on the road to opportunity. If you know how to find the right resources, there are alternatives available to at-risk students.

Preventing College Dropouts

It’s OK to reach out and look for help or options if your college student is in danger of dropping out. Many public, charter and private schools offer guidance counseling and resources for families in need.

  1. Tailor learning environment to student needs (different schools for different students): Not all people learn the same way. One reason many students cite for dropping out of school is the overwhelming change or the freedom is too much to manage. The online program at offers at-risk students with an alternative to traditional classroom settings. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network,, is a good starting place to find alternatives to traditional universities. Your child may benefit from hands-on instruction, self-directed online instruction or another method of learning. Starting at a community college and living at home the first couple years can give your child a leg up in education and financial success.
  2. Look for career education programs: Job Corps ( is one source that offers free education and job training to low-income college students. Some school systems offer vocational training programs as alternatives to traditional college and university curricula. Before you enroll in a program, do a little homework to make sure it is reputable. The Federal Trade Commission offers guidelines for checking the backgrounds of these schools on itsConsumer Information page.

What If My Child Drops Out?

According to a 2011 Georgetown University study, professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma or GED. The study also estimated that 63 percent of jobs in America will require some sort of “post-secondary” education or training by 2018.

If your child drops out, work with him or her to understand the consequences of that choice. Set limits and let him or her know that you won’t be able to take care of him/her for the rest of his/her life. Set a deadline for finding a job or enrolling in college classes again or a vocational/technical program, and hold him/her to it.


Guiding Students Through the Registration Process

Guiding Students Through the Registration Process

College, like life, is all about the balance between the macro and the micro- between long term planning and what’s at the very top of the to do list. Nowhere in the university setting can that interplay be seen more clearly than during registration. As a success coach, part of my job is to help students, especially freshmen and sophomores, choose a course load that will set them up for success both during the semester for which they are registering as well as in terms of their long-term college goals.

When thinking about the semester itself, I help students try to achieve balance in the amount and type of coursework a given set of classes will likely require (considering his or her academic strengths/weaknesses as well as other factors that may influence the amount of time a student will likely have to study). Knowing the student well means a lot in this regard. For example, last week I met with a student whose freshman seminar advisor had recommended to him a certain course load that included four reading and writing intensive courses and one higher level math course. However, because I get to spend much more one-one-one time with each of my students than a freshman advisor does, I know that, in addition to writing not being his strong suit, this particular student plays a Spring sport. We reworked the plan to include fewer writing intensive courses, and we organized his week so he would not be overloaded on any given day with the demands of both athletics and academics. Especially for students who are struggling to climb out of an academic hole, it is important to create a short-term registration plan that will give them the greatest possible chances for success.

We also, of course, have to strategize and plan based on a student’s long term goals. For my students who come to school (or quickly realize) what they want to major in, this is about making sure they are completing core requirements while also taking at least one or two classes that fulfill the requirements of their major. Many students don’t realize, for example, that some courses are only offered in the fall, or only once every two years, or may be offered every semester but fill up quickly. These conversations help them map out a 4-year plan, even as they are focused primarily on registering for the semester ahead.

For students who do not yet know what they want to major in, I remind them that it’s perfectly okay not to know. I let them know that exploration is not just okay- it’s encouraged! Many first and second year students are primarily fulfilling core requirements anyway, so they will still be able to register for a full load of classes. Then, I say, “find room to take at least one course each semester in an area in which you think you might be interested, just to try it out.” I remind them that a broad, general education makes you, well, an educated person! And isn’t that just as important (or, in my opinion, even more so) than exclusively honing in, at the age of 19 or 20, on a particular, specialized skill set?

In the end, helping students through the registration process is about showing them how to look at big and small simultaneously, and that is a skill they can take with them throughout their lives.

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.

Success Coach: After the Midterm

Success Coach: After the Midterm

I have written in more than a few previous blogs about how the job of a success coach varies over the course of a given semester. What is most important at the beginning of a semester is not necessarily what’s most important a week from finals and vice versa. Currently, my students have just passed the midterm, which is an incredibly important time both to assess a student’s academic (and general) progress as well as to tinker with or, at times, reformulate the plan going forward.

Right now my colleagues and I have received our students’ grades up to this point, and we are also wading through the numerous (thankfully!) progress reports filled out by professors. Interestingly, it’s not my students’ grades that are the most important at this time, as the majority of important assignments are neither graded nor even due until the final seven weeks. Therefore, what I really want to know is are they: 1) going to class, 2) completing assignments on time, and 3) turning in assignments that are adequate or better?

As far as my current students go it is, as always, a mixed bag. Some of them have already started to get the help they need, get with the program, or simply recognize that they’re no longer in high school; others continue to find ways to maintain a counterproductive status quo. Luckily, with the knowledge I now have about where each student finds him or herself this midterm, I can prescribe new ways to turn his or her ship around. Already, I have had three students of mine meet with professors in whose classes they are failing. One has missed three classes. Another has not missed class but continually turns things in late.

I am working with another student whose IEP gives him extensions on assignment deadlines, but he never communicated with the professor as to how late would be late.

And yet there are victories, both large and small, every day. An international student with whom I have been working has been telling me all semester that she had made an appointment to meet with her English professor, but I knew she hadn’t as surely as I knew why: she was terrified to fail. So, when she arrived for our last meeting, I announced that I had already made an appointment for her with her English professor and that we had better start walking now if we were to make it on time. The walk to her professor’s office was like trudging through molasses, but the walk back was pure cotton candy. Nikita had clearly overcome the thought that talking to her professor meant admitting failure, and she had even agreed to twice weekly private tutoring sessions.

It’s still early, which is both the blessing and the curse of midterms. One the one hand, students still have ample opportunity to figure it out before their semester grades are irredeemable; on the other, there is a long way to go and pitfalls aplenty. Hopefully, it is the relationship between success coaches and their students that will enable the world of higher education’s pits to stay fall-free.

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.

Week 5 Progress Reports

Week 5 Progress Reports

As we get closer and closer to the 5th week of the semester, we come closer to the first time of this school year that we will be receiving student progress reports. We have had professors fill out these 5-week reports for a few years now, and each year the process only gains more and more of their support. When we first decided to implement this idea, I went to the deans of each of our schools as well as the heads of each department with a sample report that we felt would both give us the best possible information on a student’s progress and be simple enough that an instructor could fill it out without it being a burdensome time commitment. In the end, we whittled the form down to five multiple choice questions:

1. Is the student completing the assignments?

yes  no  some


yes  no

2. Has the student missed classes?

yes  no

If so, how many?

3. How are the student’s writing skills?

good  average  poor

4. Do you think the student understands the material?

yes  no  somewhat  unsure

5. Does this student participate in class?

yes  no  somewhat

After these basic questions, professors can choose (or decline) to fill out two more, optional questions.

1. What is the student’s approximate grade so far in your class?

2. Do you have any other concerns about the student’s well-being, academic or otherwise?

Completing these progress reports is always optional, and early on, many saw it as just another thing that they had to do. (And as a former teacher not unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of bureaucratic paperwork, I can relate.) But over the years, we have found the percentage of professors who complete and return these reports to us is steadily increasing. Not only that, but more and more professors are willing not just to fill it out but to be specific with their comments and concerns. We now are more apt to know, for example, when a student comes to class bleary-eyed, or is always falling asleep. This feedback has contributed enormously to the success of our program because the minute we know what a student is doing, we can get on it. The minute we know that a student doesn’t understand the material, or has missed class, or is not turning in assignments, we can begin to remedy the problem. Once, I had a student who had been telling me for weeks that math was her strongest subject.  “Don’t worry about math!” she would say, “it’s my best.” Well, week 5 came along and I learned from the progress report her math professor sent me that, well, it turned out that she had not been to class…at all. Nope. Nada. Not once.

Success coaches wear a lot of hats, but our job is always most effective when we are a part of a team of people invested in a student’s success. These progress reports now play a crucial role in increasing our ability to catch (and begin to solve) problems as they occur.

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.


Success Coach Accountability

Success Coach Accountability

One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor.” In my mind, the newspaper editor is one of those hard-boiled, almost mythical newsroom fixtures of old always seen walking around the bull pen, chomping on a cigar, calling out to the rookie reporter: “Masterson! You better have that scoop you’re writing on my desk by the end of the day or it’ll be the last time you see your name in print, ya hear?!” Though this model is not exactly the one to which I subscribe, the basic premise of this part of my job is this: it’s important for struggling college student to have someone to whom they must be accountable on a regular basis.

However, it’s not just students who need accountability in order to produce their best results; success coaches, too, must continue to check and re-check our status, progress, and methods. That’s why, at each of our bimonthly success coach meetings, all of the coaches in our program are required to submit a status report for each of our students. These reports contain three basic pieces of information:

1. Whether the student has been present for all scheduled meetings with their coaches. If there have been absences, how many and for what reason/s?

2. The number of documented study hours the student has accrued in the past two weeks. (We require all of our students in the success coach program to put in a certain number of hours of documented study time- they must sign in, sign out, and an authorized staff member must approve the validity of these signatures as well as the time accounted for- in either the library or the academic support center.)

3. A short, written summary about how the student is doing as well as a brief outline of the action plan the coach and student have developed to deal with any issues. These summaries can speak to academic issues we are dealing with, i.e.:  “student has expressed concern about math class, so we are looking for a tutor,” or more social ones:  “student continues to have trouble with his roommate, so we are setting up a meeting with his RA.”

Accountability is crucial in making sure that our program works effectively for our students. It also helps me, personally, keep track of the progress a student is or is not making. If I find myself writing the same short summary over and over again for the same student, I know that something’s not working. Likewise, nothing makes me happier than when I am able to write simply, “student is really on the ball now. She has gotten organized, is staying focused, and I expect good things.

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.

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

How do you keep your life organized? Your home? Your desk? If I looked into your closet, would I find it neatly organized by color and season, or would it initially look like chaos until you explained to me the method behind your madness? We all know that, in order to manage our lives successfully, we need to be organized. I, for example, live by my planner. (And as long as they sell ’em, I will always prefer a low-tech daily planner to a phone or tablet. There’s just something satisfying about writing things down on a physical piece of paper, and I won’t give it up no matter how shiny that iCal is!) If I don’t have it written in my planner, it’s not happening, which is why I’ve learned over the years to write things down immediately after scheduling. But organizational skills, like time management and a few other skills crucial for success in college are not necessarily intuitive for the average high school student turned college freshman.

One of the reasons that my students enter school or end up on academic probation in the first place is that their lack of organization is rendering moot all of the skills they do possess. For example, one of my new students this semester, a freshman named Jacob, is both intellectually curious and hardworking. I predict he would be producing competent and even above average work in all his classes…if he could ever find a syllabus in the black hole that is his backpack. Most of his papers are loose, and the two notebooks that he does use are not delineated by course. His notes are all over the place, and he is having a difficult time connecting the notes and thus the ideas of one week’s class to those of the next.

In addition to organizing one’s physical notes and papers, I help my students get organized digitally. It’s increasingly important that students keep up with their coursework through the online syllabus, check for changes to assignments or deadlines that a professor may only post online, and follow online discussion threads, even for classes that meet primarily in person. We too often assume that members of the millennial generation, who account for the majority of college students today, have such a natural facility with technology and the digital world that they just know how to do this stuff when that’s not always the case.

Despite decades working as a teacher as well as a success coach, I can still be surprised when a student takes the art of disorganization to a new level. However, I do have faith that time and a little coaching can help them turn it around. I’ve written a few times about a student with whom I worked last year who arrived on campus on academic probation, then climbed out of the hole only to fall back in. She’s with me again this fall, and it’s clear that last year’s roller coaster of an academic performance left her motion sick.  It’s also clear that she is intent on getting off the ride for good. She has her planner planned out way ahead, a folder for every subject, in the front, left pocket of which sits a copy of the syllabus like a trusted sidekick. She’s got her work cut out for her, but she is organized in a way that tells me she is really motivated to get it right this time.

Some of us can’t keep our clothes organized by color and season; I know I can’t. Everyone has his or her own system, but if someone doesn’t have a system at all, it’s not going to work. So I and my colleagues are in constant dialogue with our students, trying and erring and trying again to figure out what works for each of 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.

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

So what are your goals? To own your own business? To make partner or simply move up in the company? To publish a novel? To finish writing said novel? To say yes to an opportunity you’ve previously declined out of fear? To get one actual page of this stupid novel on paper if it kills you?!

Goals come in all sizes. Some are big; some are small. Some are concrete; some are abstract. Some goals can be relatively easy to achieve- others only by figuratively moving mountains (unless your goal is to build a mountaintop removal mining empire, in which case you’re going to be literally moving mountains).

However, almost no goal, large or small, is achievable without a plan. When success coaches work with students, one of the first things we do is help them to set goals that are:

1. Actionable- Goals are always more frustrating and less likely to be achieved if there is no clear first step to achieving them. For example, it is a goal of mine to visit every National Park, but that goal means little if I never begin to figure out how I will get to Kobuk Valley, the country’s least visited and least accessible (feet, dogsleds, and snowmobiles only, please) National Park, located on the Arctic Circle. Similarly, it’s extremely important that my students and I talk about the first, second, third step, and so on, to accomplishing a goal (such as figuring out how your average success coach based in the Midwest can hitch a ride to the Arctic Circle.)

2. Manageable- One of my freshmen this year has an English teacher who has a particularly esoteric way of explaining things.  Her syllabus, even for someone like myself, reads a bit like a riddle. So it’s no surprise that Davin is nearly always at sea when it comes to knowing what exactly he is supposed to do in her class. In a situation like this, the most manageable first step is not to complete even a simple assignment- it’s to schedule 10 minutes to speak with his professor after class in order to get more clarity on the assignment itself.

3. Specific- Goals are always easier to achieve the more specific they are. With my students, we break down goals into small and large, as well as short, medium, and long-term.

4. Prioritized- Based on our assessment of goals as either short, medium, or long-term, I use an ABC system with my students. Any work that needs to be completed and turned in within the next 24 hours is labeled A; work that I want to see completed by our next meeting (even if it is not technically due for another day or two) receives a B, and anything that a student could do but is long-term enough that it doesn’t match the urgency of the As or Bs is labeled C.

5. Empiric- While on the road to goal achievement, it is crucial to be able to measure one’s progress. When I am working with students who have assignments that may span two weeks or an entire semester, this is especially important A) in understanding whether a student is truly on track and B) in keeping a student motivated by acknowledging (and celebrating) the smaller yet concrete results on the way to achieving something larger.

I’d like to mention one more thing, and that’s how technology has substantially improved my and my students’ abilities to document goals and assess progress. For example, I have a student this fall who is taking an art class, for which he had a project due on Monday before we met. So I called him last Friday to see how it was going. He said that he was halfway through, so I simply asked him to take a picture on his phone of what he had so far and text it to me. I knew that if he didn’t send me anything, his story was most likely untrue from the start, and if he did, he would know that I was holding him accountable to his word and for his work. Indeed, not five minutes later, I received an image of what certainly looked like a work in full progress.

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.

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

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.

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

And now… it’s time for the hit, new game show that’s sweeping the nation: Get off of Academic Probation and GET! THAT! DEGREE!

The name of the show might be a mouthful, folks, but it’s making the American Dream possible for millions every year. Let’s meet some of our contestants…

Noah: Noah is a freshman entering college on a basketball scholarship (the good news) and academic probation (the bad news). Noah attended four high schools in four years, and the lack of stability obviously played a toll, for while his jump shot epitomizes follow-through and focus, his high school grades are all over the court.

Dante: While Dante’s composite test scores and GPA were all in range, I flagged his file as potentially at-risk because his English and math grades were particularly low, as were some of his ACT subscores. In addition, he made the ACT score that got him accepted by our university on his fourth attempt, and the other three score results would not have met our target composite.

Dan: Dan is arriving on campus seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his back. Six months ago, he lost his mother to cancer. Over the summer, his father was diagnosed with the same disease. An aunt is also battling a likely fatal illness. And yet here he is, excited and ready to jump in with both feet, according to the admissions counselor who has been his primary university contact up to now.

Tracy: Say it isn’t so, Tracy! Tracy is a returning sophomore with whom I worked last fall. She came to school desperately homesick and unable, due to her probationary status, to do the one thing that made her the happiest: run track. By the end of the semester, however, Tracy was one of my success stories. She had gotten her grades up enough both to get off academic probation and to run in the spring. That’s why I was so disappointed to discover, only days ago, that she had not been able to maintain the academic momentum she’d developed while working with me. But that’s okay, Tracy! We’ll dig in this fall and find a way to turn it around again. Sometimes you’ve got to learn lessons a few times before they really stick.

The stories of Dan and Tracy bring up two important points. The first is the invaluable role that our admissions counselors play regarding the students with whom they’ve been in contact, sometimes for upwards of a year. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have these counselors attend part of our first success coach meeting. They were able to fill in the gaps- to give us information that even careful “transcript sleuthing” cannot provide, from insight into family dynamics to experiences which may have greatly influenced a student’s success in high school.

Secondly, Tracy’s fall and rise and fall again (going for rise #2 starting next week!) played a big role in the substance of the remarks I made to the entire freshman class earlier this week. Often, the problem with freshmen is that they don’t realize how difficult it can be to pull oneself out of an academic hole once one has dug it. So I spoke frankly with them about how hard it can be to come back from a bad first semester, but I also let them know that, luckily, the way to avoid waking up in a ditch of one’s own making is simple: speak up. Ask for help. Let someone know you’re struggling. Chances are, we have the resources you need to turn it around, but they only help those who take advantage of 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.