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.


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