Catawba adds student success coaches

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 12, 2019

SALISBURY — Three staff members at Catawba College have been known to call themselves the “first responders” or advocates.

Officially, they are student success coaches, working one-on-one with freshmen to help them make the transition from home to college.

The program is funded by the $270,000 Student Success program included in the college’s current Mind Body Soul fundraising campaign. Student Success also includes plans for retention software to connect campus departments in monitoring at-risk students, an endowment for the honors program, and tutoring at the writing and math centers in Corriher-Linn-Black Library.

“This adds another layer to the team built around students,” says Provost Constance Rogers-Lowery, a professor of biology.

The provost’s office oversees of the Student Success program, which is managed by Daryl Bruner, director of student academic success.

The program is aimed at improving student retention.

Each coach will work with 120 students.

“Every freshman will have an individual coach,” says Forrest Anderson, associate provost and associate professor of English.

Daniel Allen, from Rockwell, comes to the job after spending two years as a success coach at High Point University. He has a master’s degree in college student personnel from Western Carolina University.

Anastasia Peach comes to Catawba by way of Mississippi and Louisiana and calls herself displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She has a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi and was a first-generation student.

“I’m coming at this from personal experience,” Peach says.

As an undergrad at the University of Southern Mississippi, she struggled academically before she was able to find her place.

“I went to a school with 14,000 students,” she says. “I was a tadpole in a big pond.”

Sarah Wanek, now of Charlotte, was a first-generation student. She comes from Wisconsin and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She completed a capstone project in graduate school titled “Providing Academic Care for First-Year Students of Color.”

In the past month, Wanek reports working with 1,500 text messages involving students. “More than half of those students reply within minutes,” she added.

One student was amazed at the personalized attention, texting: “I didn’t think the school would do so much to help one student, but I am surprised and glad that this is where I chose my home to be.”

The coaches have been trained in financial aid, the business office, athletics, admissions, housing, career services, Title IX and dining services.

“We are a liaison,” says Peach. “Faculty can come to us about a student. Parents and students can come to us.”

The coaches will work with students on time management and organization and study skills, as well as emotional issues such as homesickness or preparing for a visit home when the student has to readjust and may face changing values and finding a new purpose.

The coaches will work with students at risk of leaving school, trying to get to the root of the problem and plugging them into resources so that they find a sense of purpose, says Peach.

Although the coaches have offices, they say you won’t find them there. They plan to be out in the student world. They’ll hold roving office hours to meet students in residence halls, the library, student center, commuter lounge and The 3rd Place coffee shop.

The program also will offer a homecoming tailgate with a food truck and free meal to give freshmen a sense of belonging. They’ve established Catawba Crest, a program that will help initiate campus engagement with a list that asks freshmen to attend two athletic events, two Lilly Center for Vocation and Values events, two arts programs, two career services programs, and two events at the Center for the Environment.

After the freshman year, there will be what Anderson calls “a warm hand-off” to sophomore year, where second-year students are part of the Catawba to Career (C2C) program. In their junior year, students work with career services for internship placement.

Senior year is all about “finding that job,” says Anderson. Twelve months after graduation, 97 percent of students have either a job or acceptance to graduate school.

“The new success coach program is a big step in insuring successful graduates. It will move the needle of retention in a big way and assist students from application to alumni,” Anderson says.