Planning to succeed:
Making student success a priority pays off for Old Dominion

Nirlange Heriveaux was at a crossroads.

Her hard work and determination throughout high school in New Jersey had earned her a spot at Old Dominion University (ODU) — a prestigious research institution in Norfolk, Virginia, focused on best practices for student success. But with her first semester just a few weeks away, the anxiety and uncertainty were setting in.

“I was definitely feeling anxious,” she said. “I hadn’t even made it to campus yet and I was already wondering if I was going to make it past my first semester in college.”

Aside from a few family members, Nirlange didn’t know a soul in the area. And the financial aspects of having to pay for tuition were weighing heavily on her mind. That’s when she had an unexpected conversation that would make a huge and positive difference on her college experience.

Nirlange (third from left) spends time on campus with friends.

College 101 — teamwork makes the dream work

“Maybe a week or two before I was going to move down to Norfolk, I got a call from Sherri. She told me she was a student coach with the ODU student success program. The way she explained it was that she was going to be my accountability partner, my success coach. She said we’d work together — as a team — to come up with a plan for successfully navigating my first semester and beyond.”

Sherri, as it turns out, was Sherri Watson, Director of Mane Connect Success Coaching — a success-coaching program at Old Dominion that’s offered to a select group of incoming first-year students each year. The goal of success coaching is to help each student achieve their full potential and make the most of their first year at ODU.

In order for a student to be selected for Mane Connect, a variety of risk factors identified in student pre-enrollment data are used — things like high school GPA and financial need, as well as whether or not a student is 150 miles or more away from home with no built-in support network close by.

The many benefits of personalized coaching

The goal sounded simple enough: Improve the success of new students. But how? In 2016, Old Dominion University identified a real need to help potentially at-risk freshmen navigate the higher education system and feel comfortable during their first year in college. So Old Dominion partnered with InsideTrack to create an adaptive coaching program designed to foster greater student success.

The partnership between Old Dominion and InsideTrack was designed in three distinct phases. During the first phase, InsideTrack coached students directly while training Old Dominion staff members in how to use and adapt their proven methodology. In the second phase, ODU established their own coaching program with oversight from experienced InsideTrack Coaches. In the final phase, Old Dominion will run their in-house coaching program completely on their own — a program tailor-made for their students and their school.

Two years after Mane Connect was created, coached students have seen measurable improvements — most noticeably in terms of persistence. Students who might have otherwise felt lost or unsure how the higher education system worked are now fully immersed in their college experience and on track to graduate. One of those students was Nirlange.

A better college experience — inside and outside the classroom

“For me, having Sherri as my student success coach was really a blessing,” Nirlange said. They talked about concerns and goals and ways to make Nirlange’s college experience better.

“I told her that I wanted to get a job to help me pay for classes. I wanted to make Dean’s List. And I wanted to get involved because I think that helps you get your footing. Having a set schedule helps keep me focused. Sherri definitely helped me with all that.”

Students like Nirlange who elect to participate in Mane Connect meet with the success coach every week for 20 to 30 minutes. They also attend workshops on topics designed to help them in and out of class, including time management, career exploration and budget planning.

As Nirlange sees it, “Everybody who comes to college wants to graduate. Everybody wants to be successful. But no one really maps out the process.” So working with Sherri, the pair came up with short- and long-term goals — such as achieving a GPA of 3.0 or higher and making the Dean’s List. Nirlange was also able to get plugged in to LEAP — the school’s Learn and Earn Advantage Program. The program is designed to help freshmen earn money and experience for their resumes and incorporates a ten-week course on workplace readiness — skills that translate seamlessly to life after college.

“Sherri made it easy for me to connect with student support services. She’s helped me with financial aid and finding more scholarships too.”

And when Nirlange talked with Sherri about her desire to become a Residence Advisor (RA) in student housing, her coach helped her figure out who to talk to and what the process involved. As a result, Nirlange became an RA. Sherri pointed her in other helpful directions as well.

“She told me about being an orientation counselor, which is essentially acting as an ambassador for the campus during the summer months. That allowed me to have a summer job and paid housing.”

Coming full circle

The holistic coaching model created by InsideTrack supports students in developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs necessary to succeed in college and beyond. Old Dominion students in the Mane Connect program were given a survey at the start of their coaching experience, asking for information on where improvement was needed. The same students received another survey once the coaching was over for the year, asking them how far they had come on developing their key success skills.

The results? Greater familiarity with how to use support resources, better understanding of graduation requirements and less trepidation about attending Old Dominion University were among the biggest positive increases for the school’s first cohort of coached students.

For Nirlange, the difference was night and day. When she came to Old Dominion, she didn’t know how to connect with campus resources and she feared she wouldn’t have the financial means to make it through her first semester. After successfully participating in the Mane Connect program, this finance major and Dean’s List junior is now an established Residence Advisor who helps guide a new crop of nervous, unsure and overwhelmed freshmen on how to succeed in college. “It feels really good,” she says with a smile. “I get to be part of their support system.”

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