San Marcos,
15:47 PM

Coaching Students to the Academic Finish Line

By Katie Chappell


The new Academic Success Center (ASC) brings together coaching, tutoring and mentoring to ensure student success.

Academic coaching and subject-specific tutoring come together in a new space and innovative program that keeps Cal State San Marcos students focused on their academic goal: graduation.

The Academic Success Center (ASC), which officially opened on Oct. 11, provides one-on-one academic coaching with trained staff and peer coaches, as well as discipline-specific workshops led by faculty, staff and students. The ASC is located on the second floor of Kellogg Library adjacent to the media library.

“What makes our ASC really unique is that it is driven by data, the programs are related directly to academic content, and the faculty are involved,” Vice Provost Kamel Haddad said. “Other universities are watching us as we set the standard for Academic Success Centers and student success initiatives across higher education.”

The target audience for ASC’s services are students early in their tenure at CSUSM, to help ensure a successful academic career. Students can self-refer to the services in the ASC, but there will also be a formal process for identifying and inviting students that are not being served by any other program or resource on campus. The current content areas of focus for ASC staff include science, math, arts and humanities, behavioral and social sciences, as well as undeclared majors.

“The ASC is a place for students to come and study as well as to receive academic assistance,” said student Stephanie Williams, a senior communication major who served on the ASC implementation team. "The center encourages students and guides them through difficult course material so that they can succeed in their studies.”

This semester, as a part of the data-informed programming, ASC staff will offer coaching conversations to help to shape the center’s services. Coaching conversations provide an opportunity for students and faculty to share what they feel students need to be academically successful.

“We hope to be a place where students can explore and define an academic identity. We want students to feel empowered, connected and prepared,” said Dr. Liz Morningstar, one of the new ASC staff members.

Setting the Standard for Academic Success

The launch of the ASC was made possible through a $2.5 million Governor’s Innovation Award last year in recognition of the University’s innovative efforts to serve and retain first-year undergraduate students. The award funded the new center and its four professional staff, who will serve as coaches, programmers and researchers on best practices for student success.

The inspiration for creating the ASC builds upon CSUSM’s success in meeting and exceeding the 2015 graduation initiative goals set by the California State University system. With new targets for 2025, the ASC will be instrumental in further raising the graduation rates of freshman and transfer students by at least 10 percentage points and eliminating the achievement gap for underrepresented minority students.

The concept for the ASC was incubated in the Office of Undergraduate Studies, led by Drs. Dawn Formo and Bianca Mothé, and included a cross-disciplinary team of students, staff and faculty.

Designed with Students in Mind

Through a partnership with the University Library, the ASC's location in Kellogg 2111 is open and available to all students for individual and group study. Anchored by a communal space, the center features six study rooms equipped with large digital monitors, some that can accommodate up to 16 students at a time.

“The space has been designed to speak to students,” Haddad said. “There is so much happening here. It is our hope that students will stop by the ASC and find out what services and resources are available to them.”

The ASC space has been open for student use since renovations were completed early in the fall 2016 semester, but the programs are being rolled out on a gradual basis.

On the Horizon

With a continual focus on offering relevant and impactful services, the academic coaches in the ASC plan to meet one-on-one with students to help them identify their learning style and explore majors, develop time management and organization strategies, learn to set goals, and address specific concerns related to a student’s area of study.

“Academic coaching provides an opportunity for students to establish a personalized relationship where they can explore their goals, passions, and interests,” said Morningstar.

In addition to the staff and student peer coaching, faculty will be involved in the ASC to support mentoring and workshops in their particular areas of expertise.

The ASC is open to all students, and walk-in academic coaching consultations are available now to help students troubleshoot academic questions or challenges. Additional services, including a more holistic, term-based academic coaching program, are being developed and will be offered in the spring. For more information, visit