Learner Story

Meet Ryan and his coach, Emilia

A challenging path to career success — and the coach who helped him get there

How a long-term coaching relationship helped one determined nursing student stay focused and succeed

The coaching relationship between student Ryan Casim and InsideTrack coach Emilia Gilroy-Sander has spanned more than three years and two challenging degree programs. Paired with Emilia through the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust Fund, an opportunity made possible through his employer at the time, Ryan began working with his coach in January 2019 while pursuing his associate’s degree in nursing. This presented the first — and certainly not the only — challenge that the two of them would work through together over the course of three years. The best part of a long coaching relationship? Being there for the victories.

As Emilia notes, “With such a long relationship, every success was sweeter than the last, because that was part of a long, long-term plan. These milestones of successes and wins continued to add up.”

Ryan’s positive outcomes were the sweetest victory. But before the triumphs, the real work in most coaching relationships happens during the times of struggles, setbacks and defeats. Ryan and Emilia’s partnership is a success story precisely for the ways it forged a path through trying times and failed plans.

Reducing financial obstacles

Emilia was first able to meet with Ryan when he was working toward his associate’s degree in nursing while also holding down a full-time job. It was a particularly rigorous and competitive program and, unlike Ryan, most of the students were not employed while pursuing their degree. In fact, the school encouraged its students not to work while in the program. This was a luxury Ryan didn’t have — and he wanted to prove that he could succeed in both.

A first-generation college student, Ryan was living at home with his mother and was determined not to burden her with his expenses. “I had to work. My instructors were encouraging me to quit. My employer wanted me to focus on nursing school 100%. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I could not resign and pass these expenses to my single mother,” he explains.

As Ryan worked with Emilia to discuss options to make his path doable, they worked on a plan for him to apply for a financial stipend that would provide him much-needed time to study and complete his assignments without losing income. Getting that stipend was a huge help for Ryan – and one of the first tangible ways in which his coaching relationship with Emilia paid off (literally).

Pushing through roadblocks…

In February of 2020, about a year into his program, Ryan’s progress hit a snag. He was in danger of not passing his Medical-Surgical Nursing course, and was told by the school that he would be dropped from the program if he failed. With no time to lose and everything on the line, Ryan reached out to his trusted coach. “He told me that he had come too far to take a withdrawal, even though there were only three-and-a-half weeks left in the term,” Emilia remembers.

That’s when Emilia broke out with the GROW framework: Goal, Reality, Options, What’s next. “In coaching, we worked on leveraging his strengths to strategize a plan. The goal was to earn a grade of 75% and pass the course, allowing Ryan to remain in the nursing program. The reality was that his current grade was at 66%, so passing was something he could achieve. This was a shifting point. Once he realized that reaching the 75% goal was doable, he shifted to a growth mindset where he saw his challenges in the class and was able to see those challenges as learning. Then it was ‘what’s next’ — what are the concrete next steps he can take to earn a passing grade.” Ryan never gave up. He worked even harder, continued to try new strategies, and used every resource he could to achieve his goal. And yes, he passed the test and remained in the program.

…and pandemics

A few weeks later, COVID hit — bringing more obstacles in its wake. Everything that had been working for his in-person learning style needed to be re-evaluated with the switch to virtual/online. Ryan kept at it, asking for help, accepting tough feedback – and learning from it. Using lessons from his coaching sessions, he also never lost sight of his end goal and why it was worth it from him to keep trying. It worked. Fast forward to December 2020 when Ryan earned his Associate Degree in Nursing, making him the first person in his family to graduate from college.

Learning from the exam

The next big challenge for Ryan? The dreaded NCLEX exam to earn his nursing license. Ryan was nervous going into it because standardized tests were challenging for him, and he ended up not passing the first time. Understandably, this made him feel “hopeless and helpless.” Again he turned to his coach for guidance. “We used coaching to take it as a learning opportunity and focus on normalizing the fact that many students don’t pass on their first try – and still go on to be very successful RNs,” says Emilia.

“It's important to remind our students that they are not failures. People don’t fail. The plans can fail them.” – Emilia Gilroy-Sander, Solutions Engineer and Former Coach, InsideTrack 

Through coaching, Ryan was able to unpack exactly what he learned from the experience of a failed test and how that would influence his exam prep for the second attempt. He and Emilia also addressed test anxiety and brainstormed ways to combat that during the exam. Not only did the next testing experience feel different to Ryan, but it also ended differently. Ryan’s second attempt proved successful, and he officially received his RN license for California.

“I believe that hard work will lead to success, and I feel like I accomplished that with the help of my mother and my coach. And I believe that I’m on the right path on my educational journey.” – Ryan Casim, RN

“I truly believe that students can and will succeed,” says Emilia. “It’s human to feel like you’re a failure when you get a bad grade or harsh feedback from your instructor. As a coach, that’s why it’s important to remind our students that they are not failures. People don’t fail. The plans can fail them. For the student, it’s about shifting perspective and realizing that with a new plan, a new strategy, I can try again and this time I can make it happen. And in Ryan’s case, it paid off.”

Using his super power

Ryan has continued to make the most of his opportunities and skills in pursuit of his nursing career aspirations. He graduated summa cum laude from his RN-BSN program at Colorado Technical University and was inducted into Sigma Beta Tau, the honor society of nursing. As Emilia has noted, he achieved his goal of a 4.0 grade point average while working not one but two jobs. It’s therefore no surprise that Ryan was selected – out of 400 applicants – for one of healthcare leader Kaiser Permanente’s four “new grad” RN positions. 

Talking about it, Ryan seems like he still can’t believe his luck. But Coach Emilia knows it wasn’t luck that got him there: “So much went into this step… I was not surprised because Ryan is so incredible.” Ryan’s journey shows the true value of one-on-one coaching to set workers up for success in their chosen path, and his rise to the top of his class with support from Emilia is exactly what InsideTrack, whose mission is to fuel social mobility through the power of coaching, is all about.

“Coaching has helped me succeed on my educational pathway… And having a good success coach allows you to discover and really connect with what you love about your life and what you love about your work.” – Ryan Casim, RN

This is not the end of Ryan’s journey. He would like to pursue his masters in nursing and become a nurse practitioner specializing in psychiatry. Which means the dynamic duo of Ryan and Emilia may have more accomplishments to celebrate in the near future. Both have plenty to say about what they’ve taken from this long and successful relationship.

“Coaching has helped me succeed on my educational pathway,” Ryan reports. “Coaching is all about learning and growth… And having a good success coach allows you to discover and really connect with what you love about your life and what you love about your work. Having Emilia by my side definitely made me successful.”

Emilia shares that Ryan is “one of those students you never forget working with. He embodies our ‘unlocking human potential’ mantra. Getting to bear witness to his growth and his success always grounds me in why I love to coach. Ryan also inspires me. He’s had some rough spots through his journey, but never stops trying. His ‘I can try’ or ‘I’ll find a way’ perspective is definitely his super power.”

Together, we can help learners across the nation realize their potential.

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