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Helping students succeed at Saint Mary's College

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MSJ Sisters
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aborted children

placeholder September 5, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
College Information Guide

President James Donahue carries the bags of an incoming first year student as part of the tradition for upperclassmen to help freshmen move into their residence halls.

Helping students succeed at Saint Mary's College

For incoming first-year students at Saint Mary's College of California, add one member to the team working alongside them, promoting their success: a coach.

Although they most likely won't wear whistles around their necks, and are more likely to draw their x's and o's on a computer, they have a lot in common with coaches on the athletic fields and courts.

Tracy Pascua Dea

Getting into college is one thing; staying there is another. Saint Mary's has made the commitment to nurture students all the way to graduation day.

Beginning with the Class of 2020, which arrived on campus late last month, each first-year student will be assigned a coach through the Office of Student Success.

It's an additional role for the office. Among its own successes is the High-Potential Program, which serves 160 undergraduates — 40 in each class. The program includes students who are the first generation of their family to attend college, as well as students from low-income families.

These students draw attention from the Student Success Center during the application process.

The group of 40 first-year students is invited to attend a two-week summer program on the Moraga campus to help them prepare for the academic journey ahead.

Once those students begin the academic year, each receives a peer mentor and a graduate student counselor dedicated to the student. They also join a first-year advising cohort.

Throughout their four years, the students will continue to receive tutoring and assistance with financial aid applications, service projects and other college-related issues as they need it.

The goal is making sure they return to school for the second year — Saint Mary's retention rate is 92 percent — and graduate on time.

All undergraduates are eligible to use the services of the center, as well as graduate students with disabilities or a need for tutoring services.

There's great enthusiasm on the Moraga campus. "All first-years are participating in a new coaching program," said Tracy Pascua Dea, assistant vice provost for student success.

Each student — and there is 600 of them — is assigned to a success coach.

"Coaching is for everyone, not just when you have a problem," Pascua Dea said.

Many of the coaches are experienced members of the Saint Mary's staff who may have been advisers in other capacities. It is expected that students will meet at least twice a semester, in person or by phone, with their coach.

They will be hearing from their coaches, who will be sending emails to them during the semester. In addition, there will be opportunities for students to attend workshops on study skills, and receive assistance individually or in groups.

Pascua Dea said Saint Mary's coaching program is working with InsideTrack, an educational services company that has 10 years' experience serving more than a million students. The college is also partnering with EAB, another educational research company geared toward student success, she said.

Sometimes, she said, the "business" of going to school "gets in the way of learning and growing." Her role, she said, is to clear that path.

Asked what motivates her in her work, Pascua Dea said, "I was the first in my family to go to college in the U.S. I didn't know about or have these programs when I was in college. So the foundation of all I do is to improve the experiences of students so they can focus on school without having all of the other things, unknown, get in the way."

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