Skip to content

Austin Peay State University: Success Coach in the Spotlight

In a Q&A with Giulia Terry, a near-peer success coach at Austin Peay State University, we check in to see how she is being supported throughout her term of service from her university and College Possible. Near-peer success coaches go through intensive training throughout their service to ensure they can support their students with academic and personal wellbeing.

G.-Terry-300x225What inspired you to become a College Possible success coach and AmeriCorps member?

I learned about College Possible at a graduation event on Austin Peay’s campus. I have worked in positions that support freshmen and help them navigate their first year of college, and I loved that I could do something similar in a more professional setting. I also thought it would be a wonderful way to give back to the Austin Peay community that did so much for me as an undergraduate student and currently as a graduate student. I am grateful for the opportunity to make an impact on a student’s journey to graduation.

How have faculty and staff members at Austin Peay University and College Possible supported you in your role as a coach?

The faculty and staff members at Austin Peay and College Possible have been extremely helpful. The supervisors at Austin Peay are willing to share their knowledge with me. They have allowed us to gain access to student information so I can better support my students. The staff at College Possible are so kind, approachable, and supportive. I appreciate the collaborative work experience and problem solving among the coaches, Austin Peay supervisors, and College Possible personnel.

How has your onboarding with College Possible along with weekly Friday training helped you support students in your role as a coach?

The onboarding process was very informative and a great introduction to my role as a success coach. College Possible provided me with the materials I needed to understand my responsibilities and how I can perform to the best of my ability. The weekly Friday training has given me the opportunity to get to know coaches at other sites. Every Friday we are able to share our experiences and work together to solve common problems. I especially appreciate the constant support and information from Grace and Matt as they facilitate our training.

What is one occasion, or story, you have about a student you have supported as a success coach?

I have a student who reminds me a lot of myself. Like me, she is interested in health professions, she expects to earn very high grades, and she is involved on campus. I support the student by sharing resources such as the Learning Resource Center for tutoring and the library for research paper assistance. I have also helped the student find ways to prepare for dental school because I know how important it is to start the process early. I often remind her to give herself some grace and let her know that she is doing a great job because sometimes that is all a student needs to hear.

What do you hope to pursue and accomplish following your service with AmeriCorps and College Possible?

I have decided to do another term of service as a College Possible success coach. After my second term of service, I hope to pursue a career in dentistry. I have wanted to be a dentist for several years, but College Possible has allowed me to realize how I can use any position to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to combine my passion for science and philanthropy to provide services for underserved communities.

Recent Articles

Catalyze college coaches gain hirable skills during returner service year

In a recent article, Forbes stated that data literacy, leadership skills, and collaboration are among “The Top 10 Most In-Demand Skills for the Next 10 Years.” But how are job candidates acquiring leadership skills before landing their first manager position? Catalyze coaches with College Possible are gaining many invaluable leadership skills during their AmeriCorps service term.

Let’s take a look at unique leadership opportunities offered during a College Possible Catalyze service year, and why many AmeriCorps coaches renew their service term to double down on marketable skills many hiring managers seek out.


Coaches contribute to organizational goals at their university site


College Possible Catalyze coaches fulfill their term of service on one campus, serving eligible college students enrolled at that university. Nearly 70 percent of Catalyze coaches focus on supporting incoming college freshmen through that tough first-year transition, a period where many universities experience their largest student population decline.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, nearly 25 percent of students unenroll from classes after their first year of college. Catalyze coaches work alongside university staff to support long-term strategies to increase the first-to-second-year persistence of students from historically marginalized communities, including those who are the first in their family to attend college. “One of the most prevalent reasons students stop out of school are financial hurdles,” shares Olivia, a third-year returner Catalyze coach at Austin Peay State University. “There’s a lot of misinformation on the types of loans available to students, the FAFSA process, and all the forms they need to complete for financial aid. A lot of my day-to-day with students, especially in the winter months, is spent having conversations about student loan education and renewing their financial aid.”

In addition to supporting persistence and retention goals of the university, Catalyze coaches help increase use of underutilized campus resources, a common goal among university leaders. According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, almost 90 percent of colleges report offering supplemental instruction to students, but 82 percent of students said they’d never taken advantage of such services.

Because Catalyze coaches are often recent alumni of their campus on which they serve, they are especially knowledgeable about all their alma mater has to offer and are able to immediately guide students to specialized support and peer groups. “I’ve always loved the community at Luther College,” says Rachel, a second-year returner Catalyze coach. “I’m still in touch with professors and academic advisors I had when I was in school, and they’re really excited about the College Possible Catalyze program. They want to send students to us and promote the program to Pell-eligible students,” she continues. “I love being able to share my experience as an alumna with current Luther students – it’s a big part of the connection we build as coaches and the insight we can provide.”


Returner coaches take on elevated leadership roles


Renewing a term of service as a Catalyze AmeriCorps member allows coaches to take on more leadership roles in the organization. Returning team members host campus events, share time management tips with new coaches, and assist coaches with troubleshooting when possible. Returning coaches have cultivated skills in Salesforce data entry, time management of large student caseloads, and effective communication of complex topics. They’re able to share what they’ve learned with incoming coaches, much like a mentor would in a corporate work setting.

“I always tell new Catalyze coaches ‘There’s no one-size-fits-all coaching approach,’” says Olivia. “Every student comes to you with different experiences, a unique background, and a different outlook on college, and you have to adapt yourself to those different needs. It’s almost like you’re a walking encyclopedia – you have to know all of the resources and provide the students with what they need when they ask for it.”

Returning coaches also help to make a more productive work environment for their fellow coaches and a more fruitful learning environment for students. Like leaders of corporate teams are tasked with goals and metrics, returning Catalyze coaches are asked to help increase the efficacy of the coaching programming by constantly providing feedback to College Possible leadership.

During College Possible Welcome Weeks, coaches and College Possible leadership strategize tangible ways to strengthen the coach and student relationship. “It’s really refreshing to be part of a team that is always giving and receiving feedback through surveys, and direct one-on-one conversation,” says Olivia. “This is my third year serving with AmeriCorps and I can tell our leadership has been drawing on our feedback to improve the program for students and our fellow coaches. When they can take and tweak what already works, we can continue to build from our ceiling, to keep improving for the students we serve.”


Catalyze coaches hone effective communications skills


Every day, Catalyze coaches have meaningful conversations to facilitate deeper relationship building between the students and faculty, students and their peers, and of course, students and themselves. The ability to build trust and meaningful connections are important skills of a successful leader, and these skills help coaches find solutions to challenges students face.

“There’s so much pressure – on first-generation college students, especially – to ‘break the barrier,’ to get perfect grades, and to graduate with a great GPA and land the dream job right out of college,” explains Olivia. “It’s very easy to get discouraged with all that weight. So, to stand in the gap for them and tell them that they’re doing the hard thing every single day just by showing up, it’s one of the most important things we can do as coaches.”

When a student is able to fully trust their Catalyze coach, and come to them with a problem they are facing, coaches are able to support the student – often just in the nick of time. This helps students stay on track to get their degree and might make them ask for help earlier next time.

Catalyze coaches also become effective leaders in a variety of communication channels. One day they may need to text students to check up on academic progress, and another, they may be reporting to their College Possible leaders on student outcomes over video conferencing.

During training and onboarding, coaches practice skills that support successful communication: active listening, speaking with transparency, and using destigmatizing language. When students feel seen and supported by their near-peer coach, they are more likely to ask for help. This leads to improved outcomes for both the university and the student.

Many Catalyze coaches are first-generation college graduates or come from limited-income backgrounds themselves. This allows them to easily communicate effectively with the students they serve. However, learning to problem solve through a variety of communication channels is a unique competency that coaches gain during their service year.

“I could never have anticipated how much I’d grow – both personally and professionally – in this role,” says Rachel. “ In my first year as a coach, I would get frustrated when I would reach out to a student and they wouldn’t respond. Now, I’m able to step outside of myself and really analyze the reasons they might not be responding.” Rachel continues, “I’ve learned how to problem solve without making assumptions, and that we’re not alone in trying to solve the barriers we face, and that’s really what College Possible is all about.”

Renewing a service year as a College Possible Catalyze coach is a practical way to build important leadership skills that hiring managers are seeking out. As companies prioritize interpersonal skills while hiring, College Possible AmeriCorps service members are building their resumes with transferable, practical skills, sought after in any career path.


Three ways AmeriCorps service can propel your higher ed career

Nearly 6.5 percent of all college graduates in the United States receive a degree in education. In fact, education is one of the most sought-after disciplines in master’s degree programs across the country, garnering 18 percent of all master’s candidates. With roughly 258,000 education-degree earners graduating yearly, it’s imperative to stand out in a stack of resumes when applying for your first job in higher education.

The University of Denver reports that there are eight major competencies employers are screening for, according to its extensive research in collaboration with the National Association for Colleges & Employers. Included in those competencies are leadership, career and self-development, and equity and inclusion, all skills championed during an AmeriCorps service year with College Possible. Marisa, an alumna coach, shared three ways her year as a college success coach in Omaha helped her sharpen these skills and land a job as director of student leadership and inclusive programming at College of Saint Mary.


1. Expand your professional network through AmeriCorps

As a College Possible Catalyze coach or college success coach, you’ll help enrolled university students stay on track through degree completion, including focused attention on helping students persist from their first to second year of college. One of the many ways coaches support students to and through graduation is by connecting them to faculty who can offer extra assistance, and directing them to campus and community resources like academic advisors, the financial aid office, or even mental health support. Catalyze coaches are typically alumni of the university campus in which they are placed, and thereby tend to develop a particularly deep connection with the university systems, staff and faculty. These connections often open doors into higher education career pathways. In fact, in the last five years alone, 20 of our Catalyze coaches have been hired by universities, including 10 direct hires into our Catalyze partner universities.

These on-campus connections also ring true for college success coaches placed at a College Possible regional site such as St. Paul, Minnesota or Portland, Oregon. Coaches typically have an office at partner campuses, usually within the academic success office, offering a unique opportunity to connect with faculty members who work in or frequent the facility. “I was interacting with my other fellow AmeriCorps members and people outside of College Possible that they brought in to talk with us coaches regularly. I was also interacting with national leadership and students,” said Marisa. “Networking is super simple because it’s already built into service during your time at College Possible.”

In addition to working side-by-side with university faculty, coaches also gain membership to the Employers of National Service, an organization that connects AmeriCorps alumni to more than 600 employers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, as well as the Schools of National Service.

2. Develop sought-after skills that university leaders prioritize


University hiring managers seek out College Possible coaches because of the transferable experience needed on their campus. From diversity, equity and inclusion training, to leadership skills and relationship building, your service year will be a transformative period of hands-on experience in higher education.

“Monday through Thursday you’re supporting direct service of students, but Fridays are dedicated to your professional development,” said Marisa. “Relationship building was one of the most important skills I learned from College Possible. Learning to navigate working with students, and how to meet students where they’re at—truly helping them figure out their goals instead of telling them what to do—it’s one of the most important things I learned during my service term,” she continued.

All students enrolled in College Possible come from underinvested communities. In addition to gaining first-hand experience working with diverse and underrepresented student populations, coaches participate in a myriad of professional development opportunities in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) topics, an experience many universities are searching for in a job candidate. “One of the biggest takeaways I learned from our DEI training at College Possible was to find balance between celebrating our differences and cultures, and honoring the issues and problems these students face,” said Marisa. “To always focus on the issues can be very traumatizing for these underrepresented groups, and it’s important to make space for joy, love, and expression of culture in a positive way, especially in higher ed institutions.”


3. Receive unique career transition support from national leadership

Your year of service as a college coach is just one part of your career journey. That’s why College Possible is committed to helping you hone the skills needed to successfully transition from service into your career. “I actually found my next job toward the end of my service term with College Possible,” said Marisa. “It was really a unique experience, because my leaders knew I was looking for a job, so I didn’t have to hide it, they actually wanted to help me land it!” Marisa continued, “In fact, they helped me with my resume, and my leaders served as references; some even gave me LinkedIn endorsements!”

College Possible AmeriCorps service provides the structured support to develop leadership skills you might not acquire in other entry-level positions. “For so long, I did not see myself as a leader, because I always viewed leadership as a power hierarchy,” explained Marisa. “College Possible completely changed my perspective on what leadership truly is. In my role, I was expected to step up to the plate to lead other coaches in activities, and these coaches were helping empower students across the state. Leadership is all about using your power to amplify the voices of others. This way of thinking really changed my life.” It can often be difficult for entry-level interviewees to call out leadership roles and responsibilities they’ve held previously. College Possible offers tangible experiences to reference when university hiring managers ask about your comfort with managing large caseloads of students or managing college interns.

Catalyze expands services in California to support student retention

ST. PAUL, Minn., May 2, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — College Possible Catalyze announced this week that it has launched new partnerships with three California universities to expand its college success support by more than 1,400 students. Catalyze will provide partners with on campus, near-peer coaches to support students from historically underrepresented and underserved communities in their pursuit of a college degree.

College Possible has been intentional in its desire to grow in California. “College Possible is thrilled to expand its footprint with new institutional partners California State – San Bernardino, University of California – Santa Cruz, and Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo,” said Catherine Marciano, College Possible Vice President of Partnerships. “Our place-based coaches will extend the reach of services already existing on these campuses to ensure that first-generation college students and those from lower-income backgrounds receive one-to-one support centered on academic success, financial management and personal development topics.” 

The addition of these three partnerships increases the number of partners in the state from one to four. In 2023-2024 California will host the largest number of Catalyze partners in a single state. 

California State University – San Bernardino (CSUSB) and College Possible are aligned in the mission to improve college access among underrepresented groups. Eighty percent of CSUSB’s undergraduates are the first in their family to attend college, 74 percent are underrepresented minorities, and 56 percent qualify as Pell grant eligible, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Analytics. Catalyze has deployed coaches on the Palm Desert campus, with plans to serve approximately 560 students annually.

University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz), a public liberal arts university, plans to provide Catalyze coaching support to 700 students annually.  Some coaches will work within the Rosa Parks African American Theme House (R.PAATH) a student-initiated living-learning space for students whose interests span historical, present-day, and future experiences of predominantly African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) peoples.

California Polytechnic State University has placed a concentrated effort on their diversity, equity and inclusion with a focus “to mirror the diversity and demographics of California by supporting everyone’s potential to thrive in our learning community, especially historically underrepresented and marginalized individuals.” Their partnership with College Possible Catalyze will serve 280 students in the College of Liberal Arts each year with a focus on men of color. As the newest Catalyze partner, Cal Poly will launch near-peer coaching in August 2023.

College Possible’s Catalyze coaches are recent college graduates who’ve committed to a year of AmeriCorps service at their alma mater. They bring relevant, recent experience navigating many of the challenges their students face in complex college systems, accessing available campus and community resources, managing the cost of college, and staying on track academically. College Possible’s near-peer coaching model leverages an intensive, evidence-based curriculum to achieve meaningful gains in student persistence and degree completion.

“We applaud the commitment of these partner universities,” said Marciano. “Together, we are helping ensure that these often marginalized student groups receive personalized care. By working together, we can improve retention rates for these students in the years to come.”

About College Possible: As one of the largest and most successful college access and success programs in the country, since 2000 College Possible has helped more than 80,000 students from under-represented communities get into and through college through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support. Its pioneering model matches students with a near-peer coach and an evidence-based curriculum designed to help students overcome the most common barriers to getting into college and completing their degree – all at no cost to students or their families. Nationwide, College Possible students are three times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years than their peers from similar backgrounds. Headquartered in Saint Paul, MN, College Possible operates: regional sites in Chicago, IL; Milwaukee, WI; Omaha, NE; Philadelphia, PA; Portland, OR; and Seattle, WA; College Forward in Austin, TX; and Catalyze partnerships in California, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee. Learn more at

Back To Top