They will graduate this week, the first cohort mentored by HPU’s Student Success Coaches.
They’ll walk across the stage, these seniors, receive their diploma in front of Roberts Hall and begin a career or post-graduate work. And Dr. Beth Holder will cry. She always does at graduations. But this is different.
She knows these seniors. She knows how some of them had first-year struggles, and time does fly. It seems like yesterday that HPU’s brand-new program she helped develop pointed them in the right direction.
It worked. Today, more first-year students are finding clear paths to success early in their academic careers because of Holder and her team of success coaches.
They anchor the front lines of student engagement, and they take on a raft of roles: academic advisor, mediator, mentor, drill sergeant and friend.
HPU provost Dr. Dennis Carroll dreamed up the program and brought in Holder to create what she calls her “Dream Team.” Today, she has 10 success coaches with three more coming in next fall to help sophomores in HPU’s three biggest majors — business, communication and students yet to declare a major.
Holder’s program has become vital, a critical piece to a concept HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein calls “intentional congruence.” And it all began four years ago.
Back then, Holder had six success coaches, and each helped around 200 students. Her coaches don’t remember numbers. They remember names. Here are two: Brent Stringer and Caroline Tucker.
Like many from that first cohort, Stringer and Tucker have a story to tell.
They will graduate Saturday and leave HPU with a job. They had some help.
The Journey of Transformation
Success coach Britt Carl would hear the staccato of stomps on Smith Library’s fourth floor, and she immediately knew who it was.
“Briiiiitt,” Tucker yelled before entering Carl’s office. “I need your help!”
Every two weeks that first semester, Tucker saw Carl. Their 10-minute meetings turned into hour-long discussions, and every time, Carl helped Tucker deal with her emotions and academic confusion about being a physics major.
Tucker wrestled with failure. Her parents were both college grads, and her dad was a corporate lawyer. She was the youngest of two, adopted from China at nine months old, and growing up in Arlington, Virginia, she had known nothing but success.
Until she hit college.
She struggled. So did Stringer.
Stringer came from Hilton Head, South Carolina, and he majored in business administration. But he didn’t manage his time well. His grades plummeted, and his dad, a home builder, gave him an ultimatum.
“Brent,” he told his youngest son. “If your grades don’t improve, you can come home and do construction for the rest of your life.”
During his summers in high school, Stringer had worked for his father, and he had learned much. But he wanted to explore a life beyond a tape measure and tool belt.
Enter success coach Akir Khan.
Khan partnered with Stringer to design an hour-by-hour schedule for Stringer, and Stringer kept it all on his phone. He and Khan met almost every week, and Khan turned the white board behind his desk into an organizational tool.
In between meetings, Stringer called Khan. Khan quizzed him on progress. But he also gave Stringer hope.
“I know you’re down right now, but things will pick up,” Khan told him. “You’ll graduate and get the job you want if you stick to our plan.”
Stringer has. This summer, he will move to Atlanta and work as an account executive for New Acquisitions, a sales marketing firm.
“To tell the truth, if I didn’t have Akir in my life, I wouldn’t have graduated,” Stringer says. “I am beyond thankful.”
Tucker is, too.
She no longer stomps toward Carl’s office. Carl says she hears what she calls “happy footsteps.” Tucker is now an international business major. And Carl helped; she listened. Like she does with every student she mentors, she helped Tucker find a path that fit her.
Today, Tucker’s path is set. After she graduates Saturday, she will begin as an area manager for Amazon, the well-known online retailer.
“I know this sounds super cheesy, but I didn’t know who I was back then,” Tucker says. “I was a wrecking ball. I felt like I was destroying everything. But Britt taught me so much. She told me ‘You’re worth it. You can go a long way. Just breathe.’ That meant so much.”
Tucker still visits Carl. But today, they laugh much about what used to be – stomps and all.
“Oh my gosh, my child,” Carl says. “She’s all grown up.”
The Familial Fabric of HPU
When Dr. Qubein talks about the role the staff and faculty play on campus, he sees them as pieces to a big jigsaw puzzle. To make a puzzle work, he believes, all the pieces must fit together. To make HPU work, the faculty and staff come together to help students learn, grow and excel.
Dr. Qubein has a word for that: “intentional congruence.”
Student Success Coaches – Holder’s “Dream Team” — are a good example of that.
Today, Holder’s team has moved from their covey of offices in Smith Library to an expansive space inside Cottrell Hall with no walls, bright colors and all windows everywhere you look.
Holder’s coaches see about 140 students apiece in this open-air space. Holder’s office sits at one end, and she has taped to her door a three-word sentence she tells her coaches and the students they see: “We Got This!”
“We were there at the right time when freshmen needed it the most,” Holder says. “I’m proud of that.”
Carl and Khan still see students they helped that first year. The students come back to give them updates, and like Tucker, the students who come by laugh about what happened way back when.
Carl and Khan both know why.
“They trust us,” Carl says. “They know we have their back.”
So, on Saturday, Carl and Khan will be like Holder. They’ll see a sea of familiar faces at graduation, and they will remember the past, think of the future and remind themselves, “Look at what our students have become.”
“You feel like a proud parent, ” says Khan, a married father of two. “Every kid has a story, a journey that they’re on, and at graduation, you know this ends a chapter in their life’s book. And to be a part of that, it humbles you.
“You realize you made a difference in their lives by mentoring and coaching them, and it reminds you of what Dr. Qubein always likes to say, ‘We don’t weed them out of the system. We weave them into our family.’ We do that.”