David Banks and Sherry Peterson know the challenges of being a community college student. As 2012 graduates of Terra State Community College, they aren’t far removed from the research papers, mid-term exams and 8 a.m. classes.
So they are uniquely qualified for the roles they’ve accepted this year in the new AmeriCorps College Completion Coaches Initiative at Terra. Banks and Peterson are serving the 2012-2013 academic year supporting first-time students who are enrolled in developmental education classes in their pursuit of a certificate or degree.
The program, at Terra and nine other Ohio community colleges, is a strategic partnership between the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, the Ohio College Access Network and ServeOhio (the Ohio Commission on Service and Volunteerism).
“In this exciting initiative, we are using the leadership skills of recent community college graduates to provide mentoring and coaching to community college students, many of whom are first-generation college students,” said Dr. Ronald Abrams, president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.
Terra offers many supportive services, but this program is different from anything else on campus.
“The Coaches need to be aware of everything that is happening on campus in order to refer students to different resources such as tutoring, academic advising, student organizations or counseling, but they serve a very different function.” explained Raechel Matyas, Assistant Director of the Academic Service Center at Terra and site supervisor for the program.
Peterson, of Port Clinton, feels the program is a perfect fit.
“My long-term goal is to run a mentoring cohort on a community college campus so it almost feels as though this position were created just for me,” she said. “I love engaging people, drawing out their strengths, identifying their challenges, and working together to find solutions. Connecting that type of character building with volunteerism just feels natural to me.”
Banks, of Fostoria, knows how the students feel.
“The main reason I chose to participate in this program is that I remember how lost and confused I felt when I first started here,” Banks said.
The completion coaches have only been interacting with the students for about three weeks.
“I think we’re working the kinks out,” Banks said. “I have enjoyed communicating and socializing with the new students so far. My main goal this year is to help all students who come in contact with me succeed.”
Peterson has similar aspirations.
“My goal for this year’s program is to see 100 percent of my students successfully complete their developmental education coursework while building a foundation of service work they will carry with them throughout their lives,” she said.
The two have the right idea, according to Matyas, a Sandusky resident.
“I hope this program will simply give students that extra bit of support they need to progress into college-level coursework and show that having individuals who can focus on student success can have positive impacts on student persistence,” she said. “The grant runs for three years, but hopefully the institution and the students will find the extra support beneficial and institutionalize the program after the pilot phase.”
Participating coaches receive a modest living allowance and a $5,500 education award to help with college debt at the successful completion of their 11-month service term. Because they are not receiving a living wage, they are considered volunteers, much like the Peace Corps but in the States.
An important piece to the AmeriCorps College Completion Coaches Initiative is a call to service. David Banks, Sherry Peterson and their cohorts in the program have been charged with developing service opportunities for students at their institutions.
The first organized event for Terra was Sept. 15 at the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky. Five students and four Terra staff members joined Banks and Peterson in spending several hours with the veterans. Volunteers took residents on walks, played cards, offered conversation, gave manicures, decorated for fall and made bread for residents.
“Collectively, we touched the lives of more than 50 residents,” Peterson said. “From walks to talks, games to TV, greetings to good byes, we made a difference.”
Raechel Matyas, site supervisor for the program, treated one of the female veterans to a stimulating conversation and a manicure.
“I enjoyed hearing stories from the Great Depression and her time in Panama,” Matyas said. “But simply being able to give a few residents some one-on-one conversation was priceless.”
The Coaches will be sponsoring another opportunity to give back in the Fremont area at the Liberty Center on Saturday, Oct. 27 in recognition of Make a Difference Day. Questions about this opportunity should be directed to Banks at 419-559-2248 or Peterson at 419-559-2249.