Student Support Spotlight: Josh Harris at Loyola University New Orleans
Josh Harris is an incredible educator and friend of WhereWeGo who works to support first year students as a Success Coach and Assistant Director of Retention and Student Success at Loyola University New Orleans. His primary focus is to aid students in identifying the goals they have for their time at Loyola and finding solutions to any impediments to achieving those goals.
Like us, Josh taught high school in New Orleans before moving on to do work in post-secondary education and college persistence. Josh is a great example of someone who meets students where they are. I am excited to highlight a conversation I had with Josh about the work being done over at Loyola to support his students.
What is your job title, what do you do?
I’m the Assistant Director of Student Success at Loyola University New Orleans and a certified Success Coach serving our undergraduate student population. Loyola’s success coaching program is made up of trained coaches who guide students as they learn to navigate life at Loyola and connect to the services, programs and resources that promote success from enrollment to graduation. I meet one-on-one with students and talk to them about their goals for college and beyond, and we break those goals into actionable, measurable steps.
What are specific things you and Loyola do to support first-generation students?
Loyola has developed many supports for first-generation college students. Each student is assigned to a success coach the summer before they arrive on campus. Their coach reaches out to them early to make sure they’ve thought about the things they need to do to be prepared for college life. They are paired with that coach for their entire freshman year and many choose to maintain the relationship.
Each first-generation college student is invited to join First in the Pack, a mentorship program built specifically to meet their unique needs. Each student is assigned a peer mentor and a faculty mentor who was also a first generation college student. The program also hosts regular lunches with staff, faculty and student speakers who can identify with the challenges 1st gen students face. To celebrate their achievements, Loyola honored the inaugural cohort of First in the Pack mentees, who reached graduation in the Spring of 2018, with a special pin on their graduation robes.
What are some things you wish all students knew before they got to college?
In my role as a success coach, I spend a lot of time breaking down student’s misconceptions about what it means to “study”. Students know that they should study and believe that they know how, but oftentimes, this is not the case. Studying is about more than reading class notes or assigned papers and books. These strategies can certainly be an important part of a study regimen, but studying should really be considered time when you become your own teacher. The purpose of that time should be to learn something so well you could step up to the front of the lecture hall and become the professor. With that in mind, every student should come to college with a clear understanding of how they learn best and then use that knowledge to build study skills that match their personal style.
What are the most persistent problems your students face?
9 out of 10 students I meet with tell me that they struggle with procrastination. When they have work to do, they just can’t seem to convince themselves to make logical decisions about the best way to spend their free time. I try to help them realize that putting off their schoolwork can be viewed as a natural human “fight or flight” response to the very real anxiety that difficult tasks can produce. Rather than kicking into gear and attacking that big paper, they’re choosing to play dead or run away by watching 8 hours of YouTube videos or scrolling through Instagram. I try to help students identify that moment when they choose how to respond to a big, scary challenge. That’s when it’s time to practice taking immediate action rather shy away and put it off until later.
When it comes to student support, how is Loyola/(the national landscape if you know) changing?
The current cohort of students -- sometimes referred to as Gen-Z -- are recognized as “digital natives.” They were born in the age of technology and have had an awareness of the Internet from an early age; generally speaking, they are highly adaptive to technology and open to implementing new tools that can help them better manage their work - they often seek it. They are also keenly attuned to investment in their education, and by and large, they strive to get as much out of their student experience as they can.
Recently, at Loyola, we have unveiled the Pan-American Life Student Success Center, which is strategically located in our university library at the heart of campus -- and by design has become a central hub for our students. More than 1,000 current students visited Student Success during the 2017-2018 academic year, and the new center, with its state-of-the-art facilities and centralized location, is expected to see increased visits this year. We embarked on this project with one goal – creating a better student experience for all our students.
This new centralized hub brings together offices previously scattered across campus and unites our staff in delivering best practices. Student Success coaches can be found here, along with Academic Advising (also required for all first-year students), Writing and Learning Services, mentoring and tutoring services and other academic support systems. Also within the Student Success Center is a brand-new Office for Accessible Education. More than 550 Loyola students are regular visitors to the Office for Accessible Education, and they include some of the university’s highest achievers. In creating the Office for Accessible Education, Loyola embraced state-of-the-art universal design and technology to remove barriers to students and create an environment for success.
The Pan-American Life Student Success Center at Loyola is also home to special programs and outreach efforts,such as: First in the Pack, a mentoring and outreach program for first-generation college students at Loyola; “Loyola 101,” a course designed to provide students with an introduction to academic life at the university; workshops for academic skills and personal wellness, and academic recovery resources and programs, including early warning, registration, and outreach to students and families. Our goal in the Student Success Center is to help our students not only succeed, but to thrive.
What is the best part of your job?
Conversations. The new personalized coaching program at Loyola is designed to guide students from thought to action and develop skills that help them to succeed in both their personal and professional lives. To help students to develop strategies that work best for them as individuals, I need to get to know them on a fairly deep level - understand their backgrounds, challenges, dreams, and habits. I also need to challenge perceptions -- and to develop a rapport that allows us to work together to reach their goals. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.