Robert Tillman will walk through Cottrell Hall and see so many students he knows.
And they know him.
They’ll give Tillman a fist bump, and Tillman will come back with something like “What’s up, boss man?”
Tillman is a Success Coach at High Point University. He also is an HPU graduate and a native North Carolinian usually wearing a bow tie.
He helps business majors, both freshmen and sophomores, navigate one of the biggest transitions in their young life — college.
He’ll catch up with them everywhere on campus and keep up with them through text, email and Snapchat. They’ll eat together, and they’ll worship together.
Tillman is an ordained Baptist minister, the senior pastor at High Point’s Oak Grove Baptist Church. Students have come to hear him preach, including Alon Parker, a sales major from Concord, North Carolina.
“He is a Success Coach, he’s Preacher Tillman, and they both go hand in hand,” Parker says. “When he’s preaching, he’s talking about how even if you don’t think you have that strength to get over the hump, faith in God will help you. He’s in a similar position as a Success Coach. He helps students believe they can get over the hump.”
“In my opinion, coaching is seasonal, not lifelong,” Tillman says. “My job goes so much deeper than academic advising. I’m in a position to help teach students the essentials about accountability, discipline, teamwork and the value of connection — things they can use for the rest of their life. “Once the season is over, they move on,” he says. “But until then, I tell them, ‘You can do it.’ Students need a coach to remind them of that.”
When students walk into Pam Francisco’s office, the first thing they see is a sign that says: “You Make My Heart Smile.”
As the director of HPU’s Success Coach program, Francisco wants students to feel comfortable. Sometimes the students she sees are homesick, or they’re dealing with a tough class or course schedule.
Francisco knows how to help. It’s like the picture she has in her office that shows a little girl trying to grab a heart-shaped balloon. On a concrete staircase are four words Francisco tells her students often: “There is always hope.”
“What we strive to be is the first person they come to when they don’t know where to go,” Francisco says. “We are their family.”
In 2014, after 30 years of experience in public education in North Carolina, Francisco came to HPU as a Success Coach. A year ago, she became the program’s director. She now supervises Tillman and 14 other Success Coaches.
When Francisco was a Success Coach, she helped dozens of business majors. One of those was Sean Kelly, then a freshman from Newton, Massachusetts. Francisco convinced Kelly to minor in finance and computer science and helped him fit those classes into his schedule.
Those minors, Kelly says, helped him get his job today.
“I’m in a position to help teach students the essentials about accountability, discipline, teamwork and the value of connection.”
– Robert Tillman, Success Coach
He now works as the head trader at Birch Hill Investment Advisors in Boston. He’s also a member of the company’s operations, compliance and information technology teams. He lives downtown, a six-minute walk from work and 20 steps from one of the prettiest spots in America — Boston Common.
“I was intimidated by computer science, but she kept telling me, ‘Sean, you got this!’” says Kelly, a 2018 HPU graduate. “I am so glad I did it. It probably got me the job I have today. The finance minor was the cherry on top.”
And Francisco’s role?
“She helped me find my path,” says Kelly. “Every student deserves a Pam Francisco.”
Parker and Nabyant Wagner feel the same way about Tillman.
Parker is the president of HPU’s Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and Tillman is the fraternity’s chapter advisor, as well as an alumni fraternity brother. Tillman has helped Parker with everything from being a better leader to being a better son.
“He brought me closer to my family and gave me the confidence to keep them in the loop,” Parker says.
Tillman gave Wagner confidence, too. He also gave Wagner roots.
When Wagner felt unmoored as a freshman, he approached Tillman for help. Join HPU’s Investment Club, Real Estate Club and rush for a fraternity, Tillman said. Wagner did. He met new people. Moreover, he became more focused.
“Coming to college is such a cultural change for kids,” says Wagner, a sophomore business administration major. “So, you need someone like Robert. He’ll guide you in the right way. He’s a mentor, and he has done everything he can for me.”
Tillman says he works hard at that because he remembers what his mentors did for him. Now, at 45, he wants to give back what was given to him.
“In the Bible, it says ‘Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,’” he says. “I tell students, ‘You’re making me better — a better son, better fraternity brother and better HPU graduate. And I want you to be better than me.’”
Parker has since accepted a job with Amazon Web Services as a demand generation representative. Click here to read more about Parker and to explore more graduate outcomes.