UMR Innovation: Replacing Advisor with Student Success Coach

Authored By: wells438 03/29/2024

Jenn Hooke and Parry Telander sitting at a table and smiling next to each other

Parry Telander, M.S., had spent a year after graduate school in a temporary position as a counselor at a community college. While searching for his next position, he came across a posting for a student success coach at the new University of Minnesota Rochester. As he learned more about the role, his interest was sparked. “I had never seen that title before, ‘student success coach.’ It hadn’t been used elsewhere in Minnesota or in the greater midwest. It’s a very unique position. The idea of a coach is a much different role than a [traditional] ‘advisor’.”

Telander applied and began the lengthy interview process, meeting with everyone including UMR’s vice chancellor, dean of students, registrar, faculty, director of student activities and admissions representatives. Throughout this process, his enthusiasm for the role continued to grow. “The excitement from everyone about this position was unmistakable; how the coach was going to work with both students and faculty. Instead of being siloed as academic affairs or student affairs, the coach bridges the gap, tying those groups together.” Telander would become the student success coach for UMR’s first class. “What is different at other campuses is they have different offices for all of these things. The student has to tell their story four different times to four different advisors who may or may not talk to others or connect with faculty,” he says. “Here at UMR, the coaches serve as the point person for everything.”

Meanwhile, Jenn Hooke, M.S. had been hired as an admissions representative for UMR’s first class, working to recruit students to the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree. With her background in education, Hooke was excited to be part of this new campus. While she enjoyed her work, she eventually began to look for something more. “After working in the admissions office for a few years, I really loved working with the motivated, bright students that UMR attracts. I got to watch the development of the student success coach role on our very small campus and saw the opportunity that the position had to continue to develop relationships with students over time and said, ‘that’s what I want to do!’” To prepare for the role, Hooke completed her master’s degree in education while working in the admissions office, and was chosen to join the student success coaches in 2012. Many years in, she knows that this was the right move for her. “I continue to be drawn to the role for many reasons. The relationship building is the best — I get to work with students for their entire student career at UMR. The position has both depth and breadth; coaches have to know a lot of things about a lot of different areas, including academic advising, career skills, pre-health and more.”


UMR uses an innovative, homegrown system called APLUS, which serves as a foundational support for faculty, coaches and students. APLUS is an interface that provides access to all of the necessary information from records systems to academics and grades, and is used as a general advising tool. “Gradebook is integrated into the system so coaches can see how students are performing. We get alerts if they’re dropping below a certain line. Faculty have been using it to communicate any academic or care concerns with coaches. It’s been a bridge between coaches and faculty to keep that communication strong,” Telander says. “Faculty send encouraging notes as well, often communicated to students directly with coaches copied on it. Coaches are always a foundational cheerleader.”

As cheerleaders, coaches make an effort to be present for all of the ups and downs of college life. As Hooke explains, “We use a proactive advising model where we are not waiting to reach out to students until they are failing a course — we are inviting them to connect with us, sending messages of care and celebration and generally being present in campus spaces where we can be with students.”


Hooke and Telander agree: Coaching is rooted in relationships. “First-year students meet their coach on day one of orientation and have an individual meet-andgreet appointment in the first few weeks of the semester where the sole goal of the appointment is to get to know the student,” explains Hooke. While only required to meet with their coach once per semester, most students meet with theirs two to three times per term. While sometimes these meetings are in the office, coaches work to reach out to students and meet them where they’re at. As Telander notes, “Coaches have been able to connect with students in more flexible ways — in-person and on Zoom. Office hours don’t always mean in-office time. Coaches spend time out in the common areas, meeting students in their space.”

The success coaches’ goals in holistic coaching means that they strive to be a resource for students facing the complexity that life sometimes presents. “Our job as coaches is to both provide excellent and reliable information while also asking powerful questions,” Hooke reflects. “We often have to have hard conversations with students about their progress towards a particular career field, or as a student grieves a career dream, for example. Those hard conversations can be done with a high level of care and support because of the established relationship that we’ve had since day one.”


As UMR’s first student success coach, Telander has seen how the student population has grown and changed over the years. “Currently, UMR has a 75–85% female to male ratio. The health care field has changed with a growing number of women seeking careers in health care. Our campus has changed incredibly demographically. We have seen large increases in the number of students who are first-generation college students, come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, diverse backgrounds and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.” He explains that UMR has responded to the changes in the student population by seeking to make the coaching team more representative of the student population. “We also do a lot of professional development, focusing on staff education, addressing biases and misunderstandings. We work with academic affairs to seek to understand our students and build those connections.”

Supporting students and understanding their unique life situations is a core part of coaching. “Life outside of school directly impacts students — housing disparities, food disparities, family dynamics and situations they have to attend to. First-generation college students often have multiple roles,” Telander explains. “The intersection of student and family roles, which are sometimes in conflict, is not always easy to balance. Students sometimes are still expected to help at home and work to help support the family while going to school.” For some, changes in relationships that result after going to college can create difficulties. Facilitating hard conversations and helping students navigate challenges as they arise is a critical part of UMR’s life coaching.


For students at all levels, student success coaches offer valuable guidance. “Most days involve meeting with students. It could be helping a first-year student who is struggling with time management to build new academic skills or coaching a second-year student who is experiencing career indecision and looking for ways to gain meaningful experiences in Rochester. It could be helping a third-year student design the customized portion of their degree plan — their Capstone experience — for their final year, and your last appointment could be helping a fourth-year student, who is applying to medical school, work on their personal statement, do a mock interview or help a student navigate the job search.”

According to Telander, the coaching process includes, but is so much more than, helping with resumes and personal statements. Coaches are pivotal in the career development of the student. “They ask critical questions. Students come into our programs with life events that have impacted them and determined what they think they may want to do. Coaches take the event or experience and help them evaluate the best way to achieve those goals. They encourage students to be introspective and take into account their values, interests, skills and knowledge of the desired position and together work to find the best fit for them.”

Hooke reflects on this impactful role. “I have now coached over 200 alumni of the University of Minnesota Rochester and am still connected to so many of those folks. It is such a privilege to get to influence the lives of people in college who are shaping their identities and making critical life decisions. UMR students are amazing people. They awe me every day with their bright minds, empathetic souls and joy for life. The alumni I have coached are now impacting the world in really meaningful ways. To get to be a part of their journey while they are here is an honor.”


The remarkable success of UMR’s innovative approach to advising has not gone unnoticed. “Coaches utilize student development therapies and counseling techniques to provide coaching on academics, career, life and health. It’s very holistic,” says Telander. “To this day, even within the university system, it’s a very unique model. After four or five years of UMR implementing the student success coaching program, I was getting calls from other institutions around the country asking, ‘How did you do this? How do you build this? We’re looking to do this.’”

One of the major keys to the success of this program lies in continued institutional support. As Telander explains, “Our current coach to student ratio is 1:85. It’s very common for advisors to have a 1:150 or 1:200 ratio at larger campuses. We can’t do all these things if our ratio is larger. Our administration has been very supportive of keeping this model together and keeping the ratio low.”

Another key is the connection and collaboration between coaches and faculty. “Faculty support and partnership has been critical to our coaching success,” Hooke believes. “First, they allowed space in the BSHS curriculum for two credits of required career development coursework, which frankly doesn’t happen at a lot of places. Second, faculty see coaches as partners in helping students find success. They are the first ones to refer students back to their coach when things aren’t going well. They send early academic alerts through our system, send emails or approach us in the hall. Their belief in us helps create student buy-in for coaches as well.” The commitment of administration and faculty to this unique model has supported its continued growth. What started out as one student success coach has expanded to a team of eight, with a focus on hiring coaches from diverse backgrounds and experiences to better reflect the student population.

Hooke, now the interim director of student success coaching, looks to the future with hope, while acknowledging the challenges that they will encounter. “I get to lead this team through the next growth phase as UMR continues to expand. We will need to support a growing number of students while maintaining the integrity of a relationship-based model. I also hope to see high coach retention at UMR, which is critical for the model to work. We also need to keep working on collecting data to support this model.” Value assessments used by UMR to survey students at the end of their four years have invariably supported the importance of the student success coaches, says Telander. “We know our students are very appreciative of this service, and it has consistently ranked at the top of these assessments since inception. Parent feedback has also been very good. They tell us ‘I know I can send my student to this one person who will help.’”

Student success coaches have become an integral partner to both students and the institution as they seek to prepare students for a bright future. 

Read more stories from the Fall 2023 Alumni Magazine: The Kettle