Success Coaches at Catawba College Help Freshmen Transition to Campus Life

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August 19, 2019

Category: Academics, Staff, Students


Success Coach Sarah Wanek meets with students. 

There are three new faces among the staff at Catawba College, moving among the incoming freshman class. They have been known to call themselves “The First Responders.” Or advocates. 

It’s a new day for the new freshman class, who are beginning to arrive on campus.

Officially, these three young people are Student Success Coaches, working one-on-one with freshmen to make the transition from home to college a successful experience. 

The program is funded by the $270,000 Student Success campaign, included in the college’s current MIND BODY SOUL fund-raising campaign. The Student Success program also includes plans for retention software to connect all campus departments in monitoring at-risk students, an endowment for the Honors Program, and tutoring offerings at the Writing and Math Centers in the Corriher-Linn-Black Library. 

“This adds another layer to the team built around students,” says Dr. Constance  Rogers-Lowery, College Provost and Professor of Biology. The Provost Office oversees of the Student Success program, which is managed by Daryl Bruner, Director of Student Academic Success

The Success Coach program grew out of research showing students’ needs during transition and 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 position 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. 

Success Coach Daniel Allen 

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 herself. 

“I’m coming at this from personal experience,” she 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 and also a Pell Grant 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 entitled “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 9, and dining. “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 initially, then preparing for a visit home where the student has to readjust and may be facing 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. 


Student Success Coach Anastasia Peach 

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

The program also will offer a Homecoming tailgate event with a food truck and free meal to give freshmen a sense of belonging. They’ve established Catawba Crest, an event- centered program that will help initiate freshmen campus engagement with a list that asks them to attend two athletic events, two Lilly Center for Vocation and Values events, two arts events, two Career Services events, 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.

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