Mentor, coach, key navigator, academic adviser, all-around “go-to” person — in the new University of Wisconsin Flexible Option competency-based degree programs, this person is known as the Academic Success Coach (ASC). ASCs are assigned to every student admitted to the UW Flexible Option. They’re at the center of a support system designed to help students earn the degree they need to move ahead in their careers.
So, just what are ASCs, what is their role in UW Flex, and most importantly, how do they help students? Our staff sat down with UW Flex ASCs Nadia Kaminski, Kristin Hoffmann and Mike Exum to find out.
What is an ASC?
UW Flex ASCs have a unique role. We are a combination of adviser, mentor, coach, and liaison between students and faculty — essentially the “go-to” contact for students. We provide constant support, whether it’s helping with scheduling, problem solving, or general guidance. When a student has a question, we help find the answer — immediately. And we are just a phone call or e-mail away.
What are the most common concerns students have when enrolling in a Flexible Option program?
Most of our students have been out of the “school loop” for a while, so they usually express some anxiety about dusting off their “student minds.” Some are concerned that their study or test-taking skills aren’t up to par, and others worry about being able to manage their time to find a successful family, work, life, and school balance.
How do ASCs help adult students make the transition to college?
We are here to provide guidance and support from the start. One of the first things we ask our students is, “When do you envision the time to do your homework?” This is a critical question because the reality is that our students are not traditional, so their academic experience will not be traditional. They typically have children, jobs, and obligations within their communities – their lives are busy. Many, like our nursing students, have abnormal work hours. Our job is to help students recognize all of the demands on their time, and plan accordingly. We show them how they can use the UW Flexible Option to their advantage as they organize their schedules. It is imperative that students establish timelines in order to be successful, and we are part of that process.
How do you help students adapt to the UW Flexible Option structure?
Students face the greatest challenge in the first week when they’re busy managing emails and familiarizing themselves with UW Flex processes and resources. Students tell us the sample competency set on our website is an important resource for becoming familiar with the competency-based learning format, expectations, and general framework.
Students who understand that just because the program is flexible doesn’t mean it’s easier, tend to adapt more quickly. Our job is to be supportive but honest with students, and to make sure they understand this program requires time and commitment. If they aren’t willing to embrace this reality, they may find themselves struggling to keep up.
The UW Flexible Option gives students the ability to plan their studies around their busy schedules. Our job is to guide students so they can feel more in control. We want students to take advantage of the freedom Flex gives them to structure their academic experience to work for them, rather than having deadlines imposed upon them.
What kinds of resources do adult students need and how do you help?
Above everything, adult students need a network of support to help them. This may mean family or friends pitching in with extra help around the house, or helping with the kids, and cutting back on social engagements or finding opportunities to study in a peaceful environment. Having someone to jump in and help with even the smallest things can make a big difference to each student.
It also means having a supportive system academically, and that’s where we fit in. We try to prepare students mentally. We encourage them, remind them to let go of the baggage of past academic experiences, and focus on problem solving. Flex offers a fresh start and a chance to achieve their degrees and goals.
What’s your best advice for students starting in a Flexible Option program?
Students should be prepared for the challenge. They need to take the learning seriously, but be kind to themselves. This is likely their first time getting back into the school environment and learning a completely new modality: it’s self-paced, independent, and online. Students shouldn’t be shy or afraid to ask questions of their ASC – it’s the reason we are here!
Also, reflect on what didn’t work for you in the past, but don’t dwell on the negative. Students should understand their weaknesses, use Flex to their advantage, and correct those past issues. This is a medium with flexibility designed to help students. Technology won’t erase bad habits like poor studying, but it can help ease the burden of traveling to campus, studying, and working through the program on your time. If students are up for the challenge, then this program can help them achieve their goals.
To find out more about Academic Success Coaches and how they help Flexible Option students pave a pathway to success, visit our current student page.
To find out more about the UW Flexible Option and whether this competency-based education option is a good fit for you, call a friendly enrollment adviser today at 1-877-895-3276.