Somewhat literally, the student success coaches are the foot soldiers of recruiting at Purdue University Fort Wayne. They help walk groups of incoming freshmen all over campus as part of the new student orientation process, but the job entails much more than leading the pack. They also serve as mentors and at times friends throughout the school year.
Hired by the Office of Admissions, this year's coaches trained throughout May, and to date have helped between 1,700-to-1,800 students and their parents through either in-person or online orientation. The 12 are Kamryn Heckman, Emma Hedrick, Justin Croomes, Katie Gloyd, Macy Schwarzkopf, Maleah Boyd, Mikayla Haggarty, Renee Liu, Therin Coyne, Willow Cribb, Rachel Hendryx, B.A. ’23, and Sydney Coyne, the group leader.
Giang Petroviak, director of New Student Programs, said the goal is to hire students active in organizations and who represent the various colleges and schools, looking for those who are already essentially university ambassadors.
“You really can’t get excited about talking about PFW if you are not excited yourself,” said Petroviak, who is in her fourth year leading the orientation program.
Haggarty, Boyd, and Heckman are PFW’s new executive officers for its Student Government Association. Coyne helps run the Student Activities Board, Hendryx is a Well-being and Recreation leader, and Hedrick, both Coynes, and Gloyd are student tour guides. Along with jobs and activities off campus, they are all busy but love being part of the student success team.
“It can be hard because I have a lot of other obligations,” Heckman said, “but I have to remember on orientation days that for the students coming in, this is going to be their first and only orientation. You have to maintain your energy level throughout the day and put on a bright face because they are going to remember you. After talking to me, this student is either going to be excited or they aren’t going to want to come here. We have that responsibility on us to help them.”
Heckman vividly remembers how going through new student orientation changed her life by nudging her ahead through uncertainties.
“I was super nervous starting college because I was only 16 during orientation,” Heckman said. “I didn’t know what was going on, and it just really helped get me excited for college.”
Because of a unique birth date, Heckman started school early and jumped ahead during the pandemic by buckling down with online courses. She graduated high school a year ahead of schedule.
Now a junior at PFW, Heckman is serving her second year as a student success coach. The duties include guiding incoming students through orientation and sticking with them during their first year of classes.
“It doesn’t feel like a job,” Heckman said. “I feel like I’m connecting with students and helping them feel more comfortable transitioning to college. When you start that phase, you don’t realize how big of a transition that really is. I‘m able to make it easier and more fluid for them. “I want to make the students as excited as I got.”
And they get the opportunity to make many new friends.
“The position can seem very demanding at first with the early mornings and the expectations of you as a representative of PFW, but overall, it’s a fun and rewarding experience,” Liu said. “You learn a lot about campus and build your pride, as well as make connections with so many new people.”
The coaches are a point of contact for new students and encourage them to get involved in activities, often inviting them to tag along. They want the rookies to feel comfortable reaching out to ask questions or for help.
“It’s a really great opportunity to let them know about the resources available to them on campus,” Schwarzkopf said. “When I came in for orientation, I had no idea all the opportunities there were, from counseling, tutoring services, the Writing Center, and all the ways to get involved on campus. That’s important to get across so they can make the most of their experiences at PFW.”
As Hendryx said, they’ve all been nervous incoming students. Attending a university is a life change, but newcomers have help.
“There are a lot of days when you get home and crash and think maybe there is too much on my plate,” Coyne said, “but you come back the next morning and everyone is excited to be there, and you get to see all the students, and you feel like you made a connection. At the end of the day, it is so worth it to know you’ve made a positive impact on somebody else.”