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Graduate assistant coaches of the Academic Success Coaching Program smile in the gallery view of a Zoom meeting
Graduate assistant coaches of the Academic Success Coaching Program smile in the gallery view of a Zoom meeting
Graduate assistant coaches of the Academic Success Coaching Program

JC Hazelwood, a graduate student in the applied sport psychology program and a graduate assistant coach for UNC Greensboro’s Academic Success Coaching Program (ASCP), logs onto a Zoom meeting with a first-year student. He asks the student how their studies are going and guides them through any academic struggles they are facing, taking time to acknowledge that the pandemic and switch to virtual learning have been challenging.

Just a little over a year ago, when the ASCP was in its first year, this meeting would’ve gone differently. Hazelwood would have met with the student in the William Bates Collaboratory in Jackson Library for their coaching session. He would have been able to pick up on the nonverbal cues and body language of the student to get a better idea of how they were feeling, and he would’ve been able to provide that vital one-on-one support in person.

Although the pandemic and the switch to virtual coaching have changed how the program operates, the coaches’ commitment to student support and success remains the same.

Launched in the fall of 2019 and funded from a 5-year, $600,000 grant from the Edward M. Armfield, Sr. Foundation, and a $240,000 grant from the Cemala Foundation, the ASCP takes an executive coaching approach to student support. Graduate assistant coaches receive specialized training to develop skills in students, such as resiliency and self-sufficiency, that they will be able to utilize throughout their time at UNCG and beyond.

The program had a successful first year, with 10 graduate student coaches serving 150 first-year students. Notable outcomes included higher retention rates and GPAs for coached students when compared to a group of similar students who did not participate in coaching. Coached students also had the confidence to attempt and successfully complete more credit hours in both the following spring and fall semesters.

Students developed a growth mindset allowing them to tackle new academic and personal challenges. Through coach referrals, participants were exposed to campus resources, allowing for the creation of a network of support outside of coaching.

These skills became even more useful when the program went virtual in March 2020, as students made the switch to virtual learning.

The program had to quickly adapt to meet the needs of students. Coaches received specialized training to coach in a virtual environment and continued to meet with students over Zoom. The program also initiated a webchat system open to all UNCG first-year students to receive immediate feedback and support from coaches during drop-in hours.

“I think the best way for me to support students as a coach is to listen,” said Hazelwood. “There were new challenges that popped up for students when COVID-19 hit, both in the classroom and in life. I had to adapt the way I coached, and the students had to adapt the way they learned. We were learning to navigate the situation together, and because there was so much unpredictability, I always had to keep my eyes and ears open when meeting with a student because everyone’s situation is different.”

Just as program participants were facing unique challenges due to the pandemic, the graduate assistant coaches were also experiencing similar challenges. To provide more support for coaches, check-ins were incorporated into meetings and training by Scott Holloway, the assistant director of the program, allowing for the needs of the coaches to be shared, acknowledged, and addressed.

“The coaches operated selflessly,” said Holloway. “Rather than considering quitting their roles as coaches during the pandemic, all of them persisted. Several of them even changed their career paths to coaching. The way they stepped up for the students was incredibly heartwarming to me.”

The program is now nearing the end of its second year, and despite the pandemic, coached students continued experiencing a higher fall-to-fall retention rate, attempted and completed more credit hours, and achieved higher GPAs.

To learn more about the program, visit go.uncg.edu/ascp.

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