An Interview with Two Student Success Coach Programs

Choosing to become a surgical technology or surgical assisting student comes with the understanding that academic, professional and personal challenges lie ahead – as well as a great deal of support. At the end of the day, programs want their students to succeed. It becomes a true community effort, with layers of support that go beyond program directors and instructors.

We spoke with teams of academic advisors from two organizations – the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science across its four campuses and Tarrant Community College in Texas – to learn how strong student success programs can help students overcome challenges, complete their programs and become respected members of the profession.

Please tell us about your role. What does it mean to be a student success coach or academic success advisor?

Mayo Clinic Academic Success Advisor Team: There are four Academic Success Advisors in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. We are at each of our main campus locations in Rochester, Minnesota, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona, and Jacksonville, Florida. Services have been offered from this role for six years.

Our primary objective is to partner with learners to empower success; to identify and work through challenges. These challenges may be academic in nature and/or related to disabilities and accommodations, stress management, resilience, or general well-being. We support academic success by facilitating individual, small group or workshop sessions, offering resources for learning strategy, personal well-being and individualized coaching.

We are grateful to partner with mental health clinicians and physician medical directors at each campus to provide referrals for learners needing additional support.

Tarrant County College First-Time-in-College Success Coaches: We work specifically with first-time college students. We assist them with the admissions process, the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) testing and major selection (specifically within heath care professions). We inform students of the selective admissions process for each of our health care profession programs, in addition to the general admission process. If students are unsure of their career path in the health care field, we utilize online search tools, such as O’Net and MyPlan, to assist students with their decision and find the best fit for them. We discuss job outlook, salary within the area and opportunities for growth within the profession. Lastly, we travel to various high schools for college and career fairs to expose the community to the healthcare programs offered at Tarrant County College (TCC).

Why is a role like yours important to the success of students and ultimately your organization?

Mayo Clinic: While we offer support for learners’ academic success and well being, we also serve as a resource for students in providing a safe, confidential space for them to discuss concerns. There are times when learners may not feel comfortable visiting with their program or even close friends and family about what they are experiencing, and our office is available to provide that space for sharing. As we work with learners, we better understand how they experience their education, and we can provide specific and appropriate resources for their needs, as well as work with programs offering support and faculty development opportunities. This often leads to enhanced success of the students academically and personally, which, in turn, leads to success of the program and Mayo Clinic.

For us, it’s important to recognize that our learner population is changing, as is our physician and allied health population. Today’s learners are tomorrow’s providers, and what a privilege it is to evolve with and support a diverse workforce.

TCC: Success coaches are the student’s first line of contact at TCC. Because college is such a new and daunting experience to first-time students, our coaches give students the extra support they need and a guided pathway to follow to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the process. Whether the student is recently graduating from high school, making a career change, or re-entering the workforce, we take their aspirations and dreams and assist them in turning those goals into a reality.

What are some of the challenges and triumphs students face? Anything that stands out to you as different or new?

Mayo Clinic: The learners we work with are very successful. Whether attending a nine-week certificate program in Health Sciences, MD, MD/PhD or a PhD program, they have demonstrated success and were selected to participate because of their accomplishments. When working through higher education and advanced degrees at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, they may find themselves challenged by the intensity, the wealth of information, and new experiences and expectations. Many times, learners haven’t been met with this level of difficulty before, and it can be challenging to work through the enormity of that experience.

In the last several years, we have seen an increase in the number of learners who seek support for disability and accommodation services, as well as challenges related to stress management, resiliency and mental health. It is important to maintain timely, accessible and meaningful support and resources for these instances for the learners and for our program faculty and leadership.

TCC: For our healthcare programs specifically, most require particular pre-requisite courses and are selective admissions programs. Because of the rigor of our programs, students sometimes struggle with obtaining competitive grades or HESI A2 scores to make admission. Our programs are also full-time, which can be difficult for students with families or full-time jobs. It can be a challenge to find childcare or to continue full-time work while they are pursuing their degrees.

What can program directors/instructors do to best support their students?

Mayo Clinic: Be observant, supportive and aware of internal and external resources that are available. Maintain high expectations of academic accomplishments and instill professionalism, while recognizing the needs of the individual learners.

TCC: Demonstrate a commitment to students’ success by encouraging students to take advantage of office hours, skills labs practice, and various other support services so they may perform to the best of their abilities in their programs. Provide or promote campus student success workshops that focus on time management, test taking skills, study skills, etc.

Encourage students to meet with their instructors and academic advisors regularly to ensure they are on track to continue to succeed through the program.