Coaches help undergraduate students with study skills and exam preparation to keep them on track for graduation.
By Kristen Mitchell
Graduate student Xin Wen leafed through a stack of notes, scanning concepts and key ideas one last time. The final exam was only a few hours away— but she wouldn’t be the one taking it.
Ms. Wen has been helping George Washington University undergraduate students prepare for classroom success as a Summer Academy coach. The Summer Academy helps students stay on track for graduation with a weekly seminar focused on topics like time management and study skills, tutoring and regular check ins with a graduate-level mentor.
The program officially launched this summer with about 180 undergraduate participants throughout both summer sessions. The program is designed to help GW students remain at the university to complete their degrees and relieve the financial burden of summer coursework to work toward that goal. Students who qualify for the program, sponsored by the divisions of Enrollment Management and Retention and Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, were contacted directly.
“When we admit a student to this university, we are making a commitment that we believe that student can be successful, specifically at GW, and we are here to help them succeed,” said Oliver Street, executive director of enrollment retention.
The Summer Academy’s structure is set up to give students a blueprint for how to move forward in their academic careers after their time in the program ends. The mandatory seminar is designed to mimic attending class, and the weekly coaching meetings simulate office hours with a professor.
“We practice the things we want them to practice in their lives,” Mr. Street said. “These are the elements that will help them be successful.”
Summer Academy coaches meet each week with Oliver Street, executive director of enrollment retention, and Lindsay Peck, enrollment retention officer, to discuss student progress and strategies for the program. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
Graduate students like Ms. Wen work with undergraduate peers to take concepts they learn in the seminar and apply them in the classroom. This summer, Ms. Wen worked with Miriam Holmes, a senior majoring in international affairs with a concentration in security policy. They met for the last time in early August a few hours before Ms. Holmes’ final exam for a sociology research methods course.
Ms. Holmes transferred to GW from Northern Virginia Community College in 2016 and has found the transition difficult at times. Early on, she rarely went to her professor's’ office hours and didn’t ask questions when she didn’t understand the material, she said. Participating in Summer Academy has shown her what she has to gain by communicating more with her professors, Ms. Holmes said.
“Most of us as adults in college, we tend to think we don’t need to see a professor that often. Through Summer Academy there’s a method in place for us to make sure we are seeing our professor frequently,” she said. “It builds a very good resource to kind of bring down the wall between the professor and the student.”
Ms. Holmes has also learned from her coach, Ms. Wen. The pair have spent weeks working together and reviewing assignments.
“Being able to trust someone to read over your papers takes a lot of courage,” Ms. Holmes said. “There’s always something to learn from her because she’s already gone through the undergraduate experience.”
Ms. Wen, a second-year graduate student studying information systems technology, came to the United States as an international student from Shanghai, China. Before going to college, she didn’t know how important networking and building connections with classmates and professors would be, she said. Now she wants to pass on everything she wishes she had known as an undergraduate student.
“I encourage them to build good relationships with professors,” Ms. Wen said.
Mohammad Rahman, a second-year graduate student majoring in computer science, said he became a Summer Academy coach because helping students is rewarding. He advises them to be proactive and complete work on time.
“If you are trying to do all the work at the same time you’re going to get overwhelmed, and you’ll go past due dates,” he said. “I try to help them manage those daily good habits. Whatever I learned from my mistakes, I try to convey to them. Once you see the progress, that is the reward.”
Allan Richmond Morales, M.S. ’17, said the impact he and his fellow coaches have had is humbling. Mr. Morales worked with an undergraduate during the first summer session who was retaking a challenging calculus course. The student implemented a new study strategy he learned in the Summer Academy seminar and enacted a plan put together with Mr. Morales. At the end of the semester he got an A in the class.
“The fact that he was able to change his whole study style to match the class shows all he really needed was a change of perspective and that guided instruction,” Mr. Morales said.
Stories like these show all students can thrive with the right combination of institutional support and mentorship, Mr. Street said.
“Given the right support, the right tools and the right resources, every student we’ve admitted can be successful,” he said. “It behooves us to provide that, to give them the opportunity to be successful.”