Student Success Coach Office Helping Students Bring Their “A” Game

By Tom McLaughlin

Sayyid Watson knew that he could use some advice.

As a first-year student at Rutgers University–Camden, he was suddenly faced with new decisions ranging from what classes he should take, how he should manage his schedule, and even when to wake up and eat breakfast.

“You become aware that you are much more in charge of your day,” says Watson, a rising second-year pre-engineering major, with plans to continue his studies at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

To that end, the Philadelphia resident welcomed the assistance provided by the Student Success Coach Office at Rutgers–Camden. Since learning about the services provided during his first days on campus, Watson has been working collaboratively with his personal success coach Kendall Depew, the associate director of the office, to set realistic goals, identify ways to build his skills, access resources, and take steps toward fulfilling his objectives.

Since the 2017-18 academic year, the office has provided individualized one-on-one coaching services to any incoming first-year student not already affiliated with other specialized cohort groups on campus. Currently, more than 450 students benefit from the office’s services, with the total expected to climb to more than 600 by next academic year.

Sayyid Watson has been working collaboratively with his personal success coach Kendall Depew since his first days on campus.

“We know that students who are well-connected to someone on campus are more likely to remain in school,” explains Depew, a graduate of Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “This is our way of ensuring that no one slips through the cracks.”

But that is only the half of it.

From the earliest days, recalls Watson, he found a coach who was personable, laughs at all of his “corny jokes,” and was willing to go out of her way to help make him feel much more at ease with his overall college experience.

“From the first day, I thought, ‘I should come here more often,’” says Watson. “She helps me with anything I need advice on, whether it’s deciding what classes to take or finding cool places to eat on or off campus.”

As Depew sees it, it’s important for student success coaches to be personable and show students that they are “human just like them and not these big scary administrators who can’t relate.” She goes out of her way to reassure students, especially those in their first year, she says, so they know they aren’t alone in feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or scared. In her ongoing conversations with them, she will often share some of her own experiences of personal failures, successes, and lessons learned as it relates to particular situations.

“It’s important for them to know that it’s normal to go through some of the common ups and downs as they get adjusted to college life,” says the Mount Laurel resident, who adds that she is not afraid to throw humor into the session and keeps up on all the latest trends so she can relate. “I try to remind them that, at one point – much longer ago than I’d like to admit – I was also in their shoes as a college student.”

Entering his second year, he is “100 percent more at ease,” Watson says, and is looking forward to working with Depew to see how his academic trajectory changes in the coming years.

For Watson, his success coach’s focused and personable approach has translated into advice on issues as varied as where to find his classrooms, how to improve a class project, the importance of meeting one-on-one with professors, and what extracurricular activities he should explore.

“She pointed me in every direction,” says the pre-engineering major, who recommends that other students seek out the office as well if “you want someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, or just want to know some great places to eat.”

Entering his second year, he is “100 percent more at ease,” he says, and is looking forward to working with Depew to see how his academic trajectory changes in the coming years.

Simply put, says Depew, the primary goal of the student success coach office is for students to graduate in the shortest amount of time, with the least amount of debt, and with an academic record and experiences that they can be proud of.

But make no mistake, she adds, having a success coach doesn’t imply that a student isn’t already successful; sometimes they just need that extra push in the right direction. She likens her role to that of an athletic coach or trainer.

“A success coach works with students to help identify strengths and areas of improvement, and then individualizes an appropriate plan and activities much like an athletic coach or trainer assesses an athlete and develops a training regimen,” she says. “Whether you’re experiencing challenges and need assistance getting back on track, or you simply want to maintain or improve your success, our coaches are here to help every step of the way.”

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