Seita Scholars coaching program becomes national, international model

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of a group of Seita Scholars in front of Sangren Hall.

Seita Scholars

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—What started as a program to help youths who have aged out of foster care go on to success in college has become a model for coaching youths of all stripes to find academic success, both nationally and internationally.

Two representatives of Western Michigan University, Kevin Knutson, director of the College of Arts and Sciences Office of Undergraduate Advising, and Ronicka Hamilton, Seita Scholars Program coach, will travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to take the program to the international stage Feb. 22-25 at the National Academic Advising Association—NACADA—International Conference. They will be the first WMU representatives to present at an international academic advising conference and will report on the "Fostering Success Coaching Model in Academic Advising" as part of the student persistence and retention track at the conference.

At the same time, Jamie Bennett, co-developer of the Seita Scholars coaching model, will be in California, training how that state can implement a similar coaching strategy to help young people succeed in higher education.

Wide application

The coaching strategy is finding wide application outside the foster care realm, says Knutson, who will present to the international audience.

"The coaching model is a WMU homegrown one that Dr. Keith Hearit, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, supported having the college advising staff learn to best serve all of our students," Knutson says. "Though the techniques were developed for foster care students, they translate well for all students. The model really provides advisors a tool to help our student population develop the skills to be successful as students, but also skills that they will need in life."

The model was developed from research by WMU faculty, staff and students and is highly adaptable, Knutson says. It teaches support professionals a skill set that can be used in a variety of forms of communication. Professionals are trained how to use coaching face-to-face and via email, phone and text messaging, allowing for adaptability across offices, staff and organizational structures.

Practitioners have found that it works best when contact is brief, yet frequent, which is typical in advising relationships. Since it largely relies on communication between advisor and student, various support staff can easily implement coaching strategies in the context of their respective role. In short, this model is easily adaptable to anyone having a conversation with a student.

"It will be great to share this with the global academic advising community," Knutson says.

The NACADA International Conference is hosted by Zayed University. Attendees will share and hear the latest scholarly research that sheds light on best practices, as well as strategies and programs that engage students in advising.

While Knutson and Hamilton are in Dubai, Bennett, training specialist with the WMU Center for Fostering Success, will be training advisors at a California university. California is working to provide this training at many, if not all, of its institutions of higher learning.

about the program

The Seita Scholars Program, an initiative of the Center for Fostering Success, provides financial and coaching support to students who have experienced and aged out of foster care, a student population that is largely under-represented in higher education.

Its purposes are to create transitions that lead to success in college and career for WMU students from foster care ages 18 to 25 years old; to develop a community of scholars among WMU students who have aged out of foster care and create a safe community to deconstruct and reconstruct identity; and to educate WMU students from foster care and their support network to enhance their professional skill set and to transform WMU students by integrating experiences from students' past to build opportunities for their future.

Professionals trained in the coaching model learn how to work within its framework, yet customize it for each student. Having advisors serve as "coaches" changes the student-staff relationship, promoting academic and professional success through values of partnership, self-determination and skill development. This model lends itself to "fostering" success in all students, regardless of their background, according to those who developed the model.

About nacada

NACADA, the global community for academic advising, develops and disseminates innovative theory, research and practice of academic advising in higher education, as well as provides opportunities for professional development, networking and leadership.

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