Academic advisor uses coaching philosophy to help students succeed in school
Growing up, Ivan Nicholson dreamed of coaching a professional sports team. The former college football receiver envisioned himself on the sidelines during games, guiding his players toward personal and team success.
However, in college, his aspirations changed. As he began developing his career goals to align with his coursework, Nicholson recognized that the role of a coach is not limited to sports. He felt a broader calling to help people succeed in school as well and sought to find a way to help students map out and develop their strengths, similar to the way a coach draws out a game plan.
Today, Nicholson is a University of Phoenix academic advisor and spends his days guiding students and alumni at all points along their educational journey through this coaching-style technique. While each academic advisor has a different approach, the objective is the same — help students develop an individualized plan that aligns their coursework with future goals and directs them to career-readiness resources along the way.
For Nicholson, supporting students starts with deeper conversations that go beyond short-term academic goals, so he can identify which resources might best help a student as they progress.
“When I meet with students, I ask a lot of questions to help them think about the ways their education plans connect to career goals,” Nicholson said. “A lot of times, students just need those questions asked of them to get the ideas started.”
Vanessa Ramirez, academic advisor manager, said the University strives to help students consider themselves lifelong learners. The University recognizes the value of experiences that occurred before and also after degree completion. To that end, career support is not limited to a specific time frame during the student’s education.
To provide support, the University directs students to resources from the time they enroll to the time they graduate and progress into their careers. Helpful tools include instructive webinars on resume writing and interview techniques on PhoenixLink, networking opportunities, job boards, virtual career fairs and more.
Academic advisors are encouraged to do what Nicholson does so well — understand the student’s unique life and work experiences, learning style and future aspirations, and align them with career-readiness support.
Ramirez encourages her advisors to make students aware of the support and tools available to them from the very beginning.“What I really appreciate about advisors like Ivan is their desire to support students holistically through their academic journey and help them reach their goals,” Ramirez said. “Through dialogue, advisors can help students recognize which support resources would be most beneficial.”
When Nicholson talks to students, he might ask whether they have a specific career in mind or a current resume, as well as their thoughts on networking with people in their field or how confident they are in their interview skills.
He said that typically, once students begin talking through why they are pursuing a degree and how that aligns with where they see themselves personally and professionally in the next five or 10 years, they begin to see that they can cater their education to meet those goals.
He encourages students to talk to their academic advisors about the way education fits into their lives. The University’s programs are built for working adults, and students may not realize there are flexible options.
“These kinds of questions can help uncover potential barriers and opportunities that sometimes students aren’t even aware of,” he said.
Nicholson often uses his own story to explain to students how their passions and experience can translate into a degree, which ultimately guides their career trajectory. He shared his story, as well as ways students can lean on their academic advisors as the first guest on the University’s podcast series How Tomorrow Works.
The podcast features University of Phoenix leaders and alumni who discuss their perspectives on careers in an ever-changing world. In his episode, Nicholson shared that many students may feel nervous being asked about the future, and that is OK.
No one really knows what the future holds, he said, but thoughtfully creating a plan to get from one point to the next through education can help students with their career pursuits.
“It’s not possible to know exactly what is going to happen for certain, but what is certain is that you can put yourself in a position that whatever comes, you’ll be ready for it,” Nicholson said.
He hopes students recognize that their academic advisors aren’t just in their court backing them until they graduate.
“It’s like having a coach in your corner,” Nicholson said. “Our students are busy balancing many responsibilities, and we recognize that their education is just one piece of that. We hope students will continue to see us as a resource.”