A select group of Northern Arizona University staff and retirees pepper their language with sports metaphors and apply tools developed by a life-coaching professional as they play a role in the retention of undergraduate students.
This semester, 26 student success coaches are working one-on-one with 68 students on topics such as goal setting, establishing priorities and identifying academic values.
During weekly contact, handled through a combination of texting, email and in-person meetings, coaches help students explore a series of written tools that call for introspection and the thoughtful application of principles that will lead to success while identifying and overcoming performance barriers.
“The program is a great opportunity to evaluate your life and your academics,” said Sam Hickerson, a sophomore majoring in psychology. “It is goal setting. It is team building. It is positive support. It is guidance. It is something that I would recommend to everybody that I meet.”
Student Success Coaching, as the program is called, addresses a key strategic initiative of NAU President John Haeger. His call for new approaches to increase student retention come at a time when the university will be evaluated by the Arizona Board of Regents for its performance on that metric and many others.
Coaching coordinator Kelley McKee, who works for the office of Academic Affairs, points out that the coaches fill a niche that remains even when faculty, advisers and tutors are considered.
“To my knowledge, we are a one-of-a-kind program on campus,” McKee said. “We use the expertise of NAU employees and retirees to help us increase academic and campus engagement that ultimately translates into higher graduation rates.”
The Student Success Coaching program emerged from a less formal approach during the fall semester to connect staff and retirees with students in mentoring relationships. After 39 coaches served 125 students, the results were encouraging enough to prompt the program to hire a consultant, life coach Carlette Patterson, to teach an adaptation of the formal program she uses with professional and college athletes.
Even though the audience is academic, Patterson infuses her curriculum with sports terminology, giving students and coaches a common language from which to work. Coaches are part of each student’s team, periods of time are defined as seasons, students are encouraged to develop winning strategies and each day can be carefully planned on a daily workout sheet.
A group of 19 coaches was certified in Patterson’s 3D Tools program earlier this year after a series of training sessions totaling 24 hours. They are compensated for their coaching through supplemental pay at the rate of $375 per student per semester, which requires weekly reporting through an online system to detail student progress and flag potential issues for advisers to watch.
Coaches are encouraged to work with students throughout a semester and beyond. And it’s the emphasis on personal development that makes the coaching program most effective. As Patterson emphasized during the training, “Coaches themselves are not a winning strategy. They are training students to succeed, not solving their problems. The tools are simply a way to help students articulate what they need.”