Since 2019, California State University, Stanislaus and College Possible have collaborated to support students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds from their first year of college to graduation. There are four near-peer coaches at the Stanislaus campus, three of whom are returning for another term of service with AmeriCorps and College Possible in the 2021-2022 program year.
Our near-peer success coaching model brings a unique voice and lived experience to wrap around student support in areas like academic success, personal well being, and navigating campus resources. In a Q&A with Alondra Hernandez and Rachel Riojas, they express what being a near-peer coach means to them and why they chose to do another year of service.
What inspired you to become a College Possible success coach?
Hernandez: I became inspired through my own College Possible success coach. The very first day I met with her, there was an instant connection. I felt like I could trust her almost immediately and I found myself meeting with her for almost anything. When I graduated college a new coaching position popped up and I jumped at the opportunity. I became delighted with the idea that I could be there for students like my coach was for me.
Riojas: My passion for helping underserved populations in higher education inspired me to become a College Possible success coach and AmeriCorps member. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to come from intergenerational poverty and be the first person in your family to go to college. My mentors in the past and present have helped guide my educational journey and I would like to do the same for other students.
Why did you choose to return to a 2nd year of service as a near-peer success coach?
Riojas: College Possible’ s mission of empowering students from underserved backgrounds to become college graduates and show them that college is possible for everyone, resonates with my personal and professional aspirations. My decision to return to service as a near-peer success coach was largely due to wanting to continue a profession that is critically needed at this pivotal moment in history. The support from the College Possible and Stanislaus State staff made the decision to return to service that much easier.
Hernandez: I chose to return as a success coach because I learned so much in my first year of service. Not only have I learned more about students and their needs, but I also grew professionally. When I first joined the team, I thought it would be a very straightforward job, however it was everything but. I took everything I already knew, with everything I learned on the job to give the best I could to my students. At the same time, I always tried to have fun with my outreach ideas and social media posts. Students value their coach’s effort over everything and there is no greater feeling when a student gives amazing feedback. I chose to return because I love my job, and my position allows me to be myself while helping students.
How do you feel your position has allowed you to connect to students differently than the campus faculty?
Hernandez: My position is quite unique. While I am in a professional setting, I can remain casual for the most part, which in my case is perfect. When I first joined as a coach, I had no idea how to act, there was no script, no role, just you and the student. I found out the best way to approach students is by being authentic. My unique position allows me to use everything I learned as a professional, as well as my experiences as a student, and combine it into one. The best perk of this position is the freedom to be myself while remaining professional, which I found students to respond positively to. I remembered how it was to be a student, feeling lost in a sea of professionals, I always found it hard to talk to someone who I just wanted to understand the student perspective. I took that experience and took it with me all throughout my first year of coaching. Students responded better to me because they didn’t feel as intimidated with my approach compared to other campus faculty.
In what ways do you think your ability to support students, whether virtually or in-person, impacts their college experience?
Riojas: Students need guidance; and the resources for navigating college can seem unavailable and few and far between. When a student feels disconnected, they don’t know who to go to and where to ask for help. My role as a College Possible Success Coach allows me to personally act as a bridge and connect students with available resources. One student came to me for assistance with appealing a grade they received in a course. I was able to connect the student with the Student Resource Advisor on campus and they successfully completed the grade appeal process. The student had been out of school for several years while raising their children, so they really appreciated the extra help.
What’s one thing you would like others to know about the College Possible program if they were thinking about participating?
Hernandez: I would like them to know that being patient with yourself is key if you want to grow professionally. Although the job is essentially for the students, you also have a duty to yourself as a person. Having fun should not be a crime in any workplace, so try and incorporate it into basic tasks. Trying new things can be scary but rewarding; you will never grow doing the same thing over and over again.
Riojas: College Possible is an all-around amazing program on campus. Not only does the program aim to empower students with a near-peer coach, but it also allows recent college graduates to gain valuable professional experience within the realms of student services.