UCF provides a diverse menu of services to help students succeed in their studies and earn a life-changing college degree. Programs offer assistance with academic planning, financial aid, accessibility, health and wellness, career planning and more. But many students can benefit from advocacy that goes beyond these traditional resources.

While nothing can replace the critical work these advisors and staff provide, the need to create a more comprehensive ecosystem of support inspired UCF Connect to develop a new model for student engagement at the university — the success coach.

“Traditional academic advising has been transactional,” says J. Jeffrey Jones, vice provost for UCF Connect. “Success coaching is all about developing relationships.”

Since 2015, UCF Connect – the division that includes DirectConnect to UCF, UCF Continuing Education and UCF Global, as well as the UCF Online partnership – has developed this innovative system for helping students deal with challenges ranging from admission to financial literacy, university policies, residency, graduation and beyond.

“Coaching helps us connect with students in an exciting way,” says Jennifer Sumner, executive director of UCF Online Connect Center and strategic initiatives. “Coaches develop ongoing relationships with students and become champions for their success all the way to graduation and beyond.”

And to fuel the momentum, the division launched the Success Coach Boot Camp to train staff to employ the coaching model. It’s an idea that is sparking enthusiasm around the university.

“Success coaching is another tool to enhance our resources that support and encourage students on their journey to success at UCF,” says Maribeth Ehasz, vice president for UCF Student Development and Enrollment Services.

What is a success coach?

Taking a proactive approach to connecting students with the university services that can help them stay on track and reach graduation is the essence of the success coach model.

“Life doesn’t stop when school starts, so success coaches assist students with all of those outside commitments that may impact their education,” says Monique Carter, a UCF Online coach who facilitates the Success Coach Boot Camp. “Many students have questions and don’t know what department to call or who to contact. We show them what resources and tools they can use, how to make the right connections, and support them throughout their journey.”

Rather than acting as subject-matter experts focused on specific academic programs or support services, coaches are generalists who assist with a wide variety of topics to ensure students find and take advantage of the right resources.

“A success coach is an additional layer of support to help students feel like they’re more than just a number,” says boot camp facilitator Natasha Williams, who works as a coach for UCF Online. “A coach empowers students to do things for themselves by walking them through difficult processes while addressing everything else that they have going on in their lives outside of school.”

The new role is designed to complement the traditional model of student support that includes academic advisors, faculty and other staff who work with students. Coaches help students develop personalized plans to graduate by empowering them to understand their degree requirements and take accountability for their own success.

“Coaches collaborate with academic advisors by focusing on the external factors whereas the advisor focuses on the academic needs of the student,” says Williams. “The partnership is crucial because academics are directly affected by external challenges a student may be experiencing, so we need to be able to work together to help students achieve the best possible results.”

This holistic approach wraps services around the student with a focus on retention, graduation and career readiness. The keys to the success-coach model are developing relationships with students, assessing their needs and guiding them in the right direction.

“We build relationships by having continuous communication with the student,” Williams says. “We talk about their lives, their academics and their goals, and we try to play the role of a partner to help them get to where they want to be.”

Evolving the success-coach model

UCF Connect offered the right combination of mission, expertise and flexibility to develop the success-coach model. Focused on transfer, online and international students who all face different challenges, the division partnered with InsideTrack, an education management company that helps universities create adaptive-coaching solutions, to build a program from the ground up.

The UCF Online Connect Center, which launched in 2017 to support fully online students, became an effective incubator, and over the past year 26 coaches were trained to serve students online and in 11 UCF Connect Centers at state colleges around Central Florida, including the College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Eastern Florida State College, Lake-Sumter State College, Seminole State College and Valencia College. By redefining the roles and functions of teams offering student services at these centers, the division established a unified and scalable approach that continues from inquiry to commencement.

“I believe there is great potential for coaching due to its adaptability,” says Tanya Armstrong, regional director of the Leesburg, Ocala and South Lake UCF Connect Centers. “Coaching can be a tool to help students further develop their knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs, in order to help them overcome individual challenges.”

Recognizing a need to expand the conversation around coaching, UCF Connect created the Success Coach Boot Camp. The intensive three-day workshop introduces basic elements and reinforces the foundational knowledge and skills needed to work effectively with students using specially designed techniques.

“One of the things we want to emphasize in the boot camp training is that coaching techniques can be used by everyone,” says Carter. “Whether you’re that initial person the student encounters when they walk on campus or the last person they see at graduation, you can impact their overall experience at UCF in powerful ways.”

The first boot camp, which took place in August, invited staff and leadership from the UCF Connect Centers, UCF Online and Student Development and Enrollment Services, along with partners from Valencia College. In the future, boot camps will engage more staff and faculty from UCF and its partner institutions to help advance the evolution of the success-coach model.

“Coaching has become integral to UCF Connect’s mission, and we are excited about the possibilities of this model extending throughout the university,” Sumner says. “We’re connecting with students in ways that provide them not only holistic support, but also, and perhaps more importantly, a motivating and personalized experience.”