How Holistic Advising Enables Student Success

By Navneet Johal | July 23, 2021 | Education, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Student Experience

My years in teaching allowed me to play a part in helping young people achieve their life purpose through education. As a teacher in the U.K.’s further education sector, I wore the dual hat of teacher and personal tutor everyday. The aspect of my job that kept me up at night during those years was never the teaching itself. Rather, it was being responsible for the holistic care of my students. Was I helping them to feel connected to the institution? Did I make them feel cared about? Was I doing everything I could to help them explore their passions and help them to be successful?

This is the daily work of advisors, coaches, and support staff. It is no secret that advisors can help students feel connected to their institution and help them navigate the path to success. In fact, an impactful strategy for engaging students in purposeful discussion is proactive advising.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Jordan Skeen, an academic coach at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM). In this interview, Jordan talks about his work as an academic coach, his thoughts on the role of advising in enabling student success, and his top tips for advising and coaching.

Student talking with advisor
Advisors can help students feel connected to their institution and help them navigate the path to success.

Navneet Johal (NJ): While the work of advising and coaching may be similar globally, each advisor, coach, or support staff is different. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your role at CNM, and what motivates you?

Jordan Skeen (JS): I am currently an academic coach on CNM’s main campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I assist with a lot of the student experience. My background is in higher education but I actually started in a youth treatment setting in Richmond, Virginia where I worked with students in a program serving as an alternative to incarceration. I worked with them on educational and psychological development, and truly enjoyed the work.

I myself had a non-traditional route and eventually obtained a masters degree in educational leadership from the University of New Mexico, but moved around a lot. I had some community college experience, university experience, life experience, and more. So I’ve been where a lot of my students are now and wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was an amazing way to learn about myself, education, and the world, and has now given me the opportunity to give back to students in a way that I didn’t always have.

Much of my giving back today is in information, accessibility, providing a place for students to ask questions and have questions answered. The engagement and seeing the student holistically is my motivation for this work. Each student is so different, therefore understanding their motivations is also important in reaching them where they are at.

NJ: What does a day in the life of an academic coach look like, and how would you describe the process of advising/coaching?

JS: We see a huge amount of students. Even during the pandemic we were on the phones, we were on email, doing live virtual sessions, and in the past month we started in-person meetings again. I would love to have even more time with our students to discuss different options.

We serve a very diverse, muti-cultural and multi-generational group of students and we try to meet the needs of the community as much as possible. Some students know what they want to do and where to get started, and others have no idea what to do and little college experience, and we want to light the way for those students.

That is truly the most rewarding part of this job — to help students explore their options. Some students come with family members as advocates and I try to involve them as much as possible. Appointments are usually thirty minutes or one hour, and active listening is so important in the first five minutes to reach students where they are. We seek to be as responsive to the needs of the community as possible.

NJ: With the increased focus in recent years on the need to retain students and help them succeed, what is the role of advising/coaching in enabling student success?

JS: Improving student success is a team effort. Enrollment management, financial aid, the advisement team, coaches, and so many others, all work together to meet students where they are. I tell my students that I may not know the answer to everything, but I usually know where to find it, or where to start looking. That eases so many minds, especially for those students who don’t have a lot of experience with advising or coaching.

Some think they need to come in with all of their questions ready to go, when in reality, it really is a conversation — and it’s the conversations that drive student success. Providing interconnectivity and a ladder for accessibility is really a key part of how advising and coaching can drive student success.

I also like to reassure my students that even if you don’t have the answers today, that does not mean you won’t have them tomorrow. Everyday is an opportunity to find what may be out there, and I like to think of myself as a guide.

NJ: We all know that the higher education industry is a tight-knit community that loves to share, so what are your top tips and best practices for advising/coaching?

JS: I’d say first and foremost, active listening. This sounds like a simple thing, but it’s often overlooked. There is sophistication in the simplicity of listening to our students in a short session. We first have to listen and hear what the needs are, and then respond to those needs.

Second, being flexible. Students will all be different, so it’s important to look for opportunities in conversations and be prepared for change. A student may come in with one idea, but leave with another and that is all a part of the exploration.

Third, being empathetic, generous, and grateful go hand in hand with this job. Being able to share all the information that I have, and being grateful to do so is something I reflect on a lot. All the coaches at CNM Connect have a desire to give back and want every student to leave an appointment more confident, more educated, and happier than when they walked in that day.

Finally, and I’d say foundational to all of this, is investing in technology to support the advising or coaching efforts. Having a constituent relationship management (CRM) solution and Advisor Link from Salesforce is like having an assistant or database of information at your fingertips. While we use other communications and meeting tools, more than anything, we use Advisor Link, particularly the platform’s notes functionality. I can go back as long as the student has been seeking support and get that full view. This technology has really helped all of us at CNM to enhance how we serve students and drive their success.

Learn more about how CNM implemented Advisor Link to streamline advising for prospective and current students across multiple campuses.


About the Author

Navneet Johal, Director, Industry Solutions
Navneet Johal
Director, Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org
Navneet is the director of industry solutions at Salesforce.org, supporting solutions across the student experience. Prior to joining Salesforce, Navneet was a solution director for higher education and research at SAP, and a senior analyst in Ovum, where she led research on the use of technology in higher education. Navneet’s passion for education and technology began when she was teaching in the further education sector in the U.K. for several years before moving to the U.S.