Students assigned virtual coaches from Student Success Team

Over 400 MIT staff members volunteer as undergraduate coaches

Students have been assigned “coaches” from MIT’s newly created Student Success Team. The coaches will help students “transition successfully to an online MIT experience,” according to an email from Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz to undergraduates April 4.

Coaches will “check in” with students weekly via a 15-minute Zoom meeting or phone call and connect students with virtual resources for learning and career development, Barnhart, Nelson, and Waitz wrote. 

Students may opt out of the coaching program by responding to their coach’s initial email.

Barnhart, Nelson, and Waitz emphasized that coaches are “not intended to replace… advisors, deans, clinicians,” friends, or other campus resources. 

Blanche Staton, senior associate dean for graduate education, wrote in an email to graduate students that the coaching program may be helpful for students who are not graduating this spring. Students finishing degree programs are “likely to have different and more specific needs, which are better addressed on an individual basis,” Staton wrote.

Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, wrote in an email to The Tech that there are over 400 coaches for undergraduates and over 100 coaches for graduate students. 

Rajagopal wrote that coaches are MIT staff members such as librarians, athletic coaches, and student services staff who volunteer for the role and are not compensated additionally. They “will work with their respective managers to balance this commitment with their other work,” Rajagopal wrote.

Unlike academic advisors, coaches “will not be a subject matter expert, and will not focus on navigating through a major or on research, per se,” Rajagopal wrote. “The first role of a coach will be to listen,” he continued, adding that coaches will direct students to additional resources such as faculty or TAs. 

The Student Success Team’s overall purpose is to “support the success of students” and “identify students who might be facing challenges adjusting or staying connected,” Rajagopal wrote.

The Student Success Team is co-chaired by Gus Burkett, senior associate dean of diversity and community involvement in the Division of Student Life (DSL), Lauren Pouchak, director of special projects in the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC), and Elizabeth Cogliano Young, associate dean and director for first year advising.

Burkett, Pouchak, and Young wrote in an email to The Tech that the team is “excited by the strong responses” to the DSL and OVC coach recruitment efforts. Coaches attended an hour-long Zoom call for training, during which DSL’s Student Support and Wellbeing and MIT Medical’s Community Wellness gave presentations.

Rajagopal wrote that coaches are trained by  “a number of Institute experts” and “learn about the wide variety of MIT’s existing and emerging resources available to students.” The Student Success Team has created a “Coaches Corner” in Slack for coaches to “ask and answer questions, support each other,” and “share resources,” Rajagopal wrote.

Burkett, Pouchak, and Young wrote that the DSL, OVC, and Office of the First Year “will create regular ways to stay in touch” with students and coaches in the program. 

The DSL and OVC worked to match coaches with students they already knew, if possible, and make matches “based upon shared interests,” Rajagopal wrote. Burkett, Pouchak, and Young wrote that many first-year students were matched with their current academic advisor.

Rajagopal wrote that organizing the coaching program in only a week was “challenging.” He added that many students live in different time zones “so coaches will work with students to identify the best way to connect.” 

“We also recognize there are many intact communities that are already offering similar opportunities for their students and we expect those opportunities to continue,” Rajagopal wrote. “We do not want these outreach efforts we are making to be a burden for anyone.”

In particular, Rajagopal noted that many graduate students already have support systems in their departments and programs that function like the coaching program. Consequently, the Student Success Team focused on “identifying departments who may need help with graduate student outreach.”

Rajagopal wrote that a “potential side benefit” of the coaching system is networking as students meet coaches and coaches share professional resources with each other. Coaches may also “prompt students to connect with each other.”

Students who want to be reassigned to a different coach or have questions can email