Union College Teaching Learning Center offers Life Coaching

I entered the Teaching Learning Center (TLC) ready to report on the department’s new life coaching service, and left with a newfound motivation for my own work. For more than 30 years, the TLC has helped students overcome difficulties to succeed in college—whether physical disabilities, learning differences or academic apathy.

I’m usually a good student, but I confess I sometimes fall into that final category. During the course of my interview, Debbie Forshee-Sweeney and Elizabeth Anderson helped me change that.

For both Anderson and Forshee-Sweeney, life coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation is only one of many qualifications. Both are experienced academic coaches and tutors and are trained in disability testing.  

As a social work graduate from Union College, Forshee-Sweeney has a particular interest in the success of the TLC. She later attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned her master’s degree in Education Administration with emphases in Higher Education and Special Education. In 2001, she returned to Union to earn an education degree and was offered the job as TLC director. Jennifer Forbes, the former director, had been impressed by Forshee-Sweeney throughout the years and was certain she be an asset for the program.

Anderson’s path to the TLC started when Forbes spoke at her church about Union’s learning programs. She was impressed with the strategies and assistance offered and later applied for a position. With a degree in speech-language pathology and audiology along with a master’s in special education, Anderson has been a vital part of TLC for the past 13 years.

The power of life coaching is most easily understood by experiencing it, so during the course of my interview, Foreshee-Sweeney led me through a mock session.  It turned serious when I divulged my apathy toward writing a 2,000-word paper that was due the next day.

 “What do you want to get by completing this task?” Forshee-Sweeney asked.

“A good grade,” I replied.

She looked at me skeptically, and with a shake of her head and a raised eyebrow, she leaned in, “Really?”

I sighed. “No, I have to complete the paper in order to prove myself competent.”

Smiling, she relaxed in her chair. With two simple questions we had discovered the real goal and the drive that would allow me to finish the assignment.  She began jotting down a list of what I felt was necessary in order to achieve my goal. The paper became filled with words and lines as she pointed me in a new direction. Then, we discussed what I could realistically accomplish in the given time frame.

She sent me out the door confident in my new action plan: eat supper, go to the library, eliminate distractions by turning off the Internet on my laptop, type for an hour, then take a ten-minute break, repeat. The plan was simple, but having addressed the issue and knowing why I needed to accomplish the dreaded task made all the difference.

The first coaching session covers goals and an action plan best suitable for the student’s personality. Campus Tool Kit, an online assessment program, is then used to monitor stress, personality, learning and communication styles, which help indicate an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. This assessment is taken at the beginning and again near the end of a students work with a coach to gauge improvements.

Life coaching differs from counseling by sorting out information a person already knows, rarely focusing on the ‘why’ behind a problem. It concentrates on asking the right questions, which lead students to a solution and action steps on their own.

According to their research, Forshee-Sweeney and Anderson are the only on-campus academic coaches in the nation who are also life coaches. Many higher education facilities hire outside marketing companies to do life coaching on their campuses.

“Our students are so important to us and we both want to be better coaches for them,” said Forshee-Sweeney. “After working here for so long it felt like we were still missing something. We think life coaching will help bridge that gap and allow us to better prepare them.”

“Life coaching will help us to better focus our efforts on the needs of our students,” said Anderson. “Our training has already helped us ask better questions and create more effective action plans that steer the student in a clearer direction. Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their goals and we hope to continue giving insight and support to accomplish them.”

If you know of a college student who could benefit from both academic and life coaching services offered at the Union College Teaching Learning Center, you can explore Union online at www.ucollege.edu/TLC.