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Faces of a Success Coach: The Polygraph

Faces of a Success Coach: The Polygraph

Human beings lie for many reasons, some of them more excusable than others. On the indefensible end of the spectrum, people lie to cheat, steal, manipulate, and control. However, human beings also tell lies both big and small to protect themselves, sometimes from the negative consequences they actually deserve due to bad behavior, but also from mundane, human experiences like feelings of embarrassment, disappointment, and insecurity. It’s as universal a human impulse as rain in Seattle, and it takes experience and moral education to learn to control these impulses for the greater benefits gained by taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes.

However, as a success coach, my first job is to convince students who have a problem with “truthiness” of the sheer futility of lying. As a mother and teacher of over forty years, I’m like a double black belt in lie detecting. There’s just not much I haven’t yet heard. I’m like a veteran cop who, after nearly half a century of interrogations, has become his own polygraph machine. Most students are generally honest with me from the get-go, but even the vast majority of those who are not figure this out pretty early on. I may look like a small, sweet lady with a faint Southern accent, but it doesn’t take much to see that I’m more “steel magnolia” than “shrinking violet.”

But…some students learn the hard way.

An extreme example is that of Eddie, a freshman who came once or twice at the beginning of his first semester and then just stopped coming. He would say he would come but then wouldn’t. Then all communication from Eddie went dark. After about a week, I called the RA and asked him to keep me on the phone while he knocked on Eddie’s door. The RA went to Eddie’s room and gave him the phone, at which time I made it clear to him that, at this point, he was required to see the director of retention services. He didn’t go. So the director called me back and together we contacted the director of campus housing to bring him in. (For students to truly come to understand that lying is futile, it’s important that they know that A) I am constantly working with/sharing information with other administrators and educators on campus, and B) I know where you live… muhahahaha!) As it turned out, this young man’s story was one of bad choices in a difficult, even sympathetic situation.  Eddie had been living in California in an abusive home, and when his stepfather kicked him out of house, he figured he could get into college in Ohio where his grandmother lived, utilize the need-based aid that made it nearly free for him to attend, then use his dorm as a hotel for an extended vacation.

Eddie’s case is an example of clear abuse of the system; however, more often a case comes along like that of a sophomore named Keith who was on Academic warning and had a brand new (very competent –but not yet experienced with coaching) success coach. At the beginning of fall semester, Keith went to all his classes the first week. From then on, he only ever attended two. While he had perfect attendance in those two classes, he attended the other three a grand total of zero times. He was, however, telling his coach that all was well, that he was going to class and turning in all assignments. During the fifth week, his coach got word from Keith’s English professor letting the coach know that she hadn’t seen Keith since day one.  Math and Info Tech? Same story- they hadn’t seen Keith at all since first week. When his coach confronted Keith directly, instead of admitting that he hadn’t been to any of these classes in a month, he doubled down. He pleaded and asked incredulously, “why is no one believing me? I’ve been to class! I’m doing well!” Next, Keith and his coach met with the dean of students. He tripled down, perhaps believing he was too “far in” his own lie to back out now.  “Nobody believes me!” he would cry. “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” I was in the loop with this situation and Keith’s performance was so convincing that we did take a moment to reconsider. It seemed unlikely, but maybe this was a case of mistaken identity. So we made an appointment with his English professor, where he repeated the same story. He insisted that she had him confused with someone else. Then…the smoking gun. She pulled up a folder with his photograph on it. “Is this you?” she asked. He nodded, trapped. “Well,” she continued, “this is the folder where I keep the work that students in my class have turned in to date. Your folder is empty. You have turned in nothing and you have not been to class.” With the presentation of this evidence, Keith’s house of cards collapsed.

This semester, Keith is working with me. On the first day, we talked about what had happened last semester as well as ways to turn it around.  I scheduled a meeting between Keith and the dean of the school of criminal justice (do you see the irony here?) to discuss Keith’s potential success. During the meeting, the dean was honest and blunt. He told Keith that when job recruiters in the field of criminal justice come to campus, they ask the dean of the school or a faculty member, “would you hire this student?” If a professor even hesitates, the recruiter marks that student off the list.

Right now, Keith has 2 Bs, an A and a C. He is attending classes (I check – trust but verify) bringing papers and written assignments to me before turning them in (trust but verify), and we are discussing topics in criminal justice which he has to explain to me in a way that I (knowing nothing about the subject) will understand it. I think I could do pretty well on the next test in Justice 220. As a result, we’ve had some really good conversations about public policy, the justice system, and American society. We are four weeks until the end of the semester and so far so good.

Oh…and Keith has learned that it’s no use lying to a polygraph.

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 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.

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.