In an effort to provide a more holistic and innovative approach to helping students to cross the degree finish line, 31 students at the University of Central Missouri recently completed Certified Peer Educator Training through NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

The approximately 12-hour-long training took place Feb. 15-16 in the Elliott Student Union. Four full-time staff members also participated in a separate session Feb. 14 to become certified trainers of this program. The training was made possible with funding provided through the $2.7 million U.S. Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) grant.

These funds were awarded Oct. 1, 2018 to aid UCM in the continued development of new initiatives in the area of student retention and completion. Grant funding over a five-year period benefits all students, but particularly enhances the university’s ability to better assist students who are first-generation, Pell eligible, low-income and racial/ethnic minorities to stay on a path to graduation.

“Training was geared toward students in leadership positions directly related to student success,” according to Kris Howard, academic success advisor and career counselor in the UCM Success Advising Center.

“Through this training, our student coaches were given new concepts and resources to find new opportunities to provide assistance to students at all levels. All geared toward academic success, ultimately, the students in this training were challenged to think about topics ranging from how to effectively connect students to resources and people, handle and lead student to student transformational conversations, and develop new student-led programs,” said Howard.

He added, “As one of the four staff members who were trained as facilitators of this program, we will now be able to administer the training to future students in our department or any other department on campus, to get students to be certified as peer educators. That is vital in making sure that students now and in the future have the resources to succeed, in and out of the classroom.”

He said during the training success coaches at the Success Advising Center, Career Services, community leaders in Student Housing, peer mentors from federally funded TRIO programs, and tutors from The Learning Commons learned how to use a more holistic approach to student success. They will know how to take a more intentional approach to serving students, based on what they learned.

“These students will be able to better gauge the issues at hand with students they are working with,” Howard said. “By assessing the situation and finding the tools to help the student move forward, our peer educators will maximize their time and relationships with students. From understanding their roles as bystanders to intervening with different crisis, these peer educators will be part of that front line effort to impact the lives and well-being of every student they come into contact with."

According to Ken Schueller, director of success advising at UCM, this is the first time in the university’s history that students have been certified as peer educators. Those who received training are now in a much better position to assist students to address the wide variety of issues they may face in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. Having professional staff members who are certified to conduct this training also will result in a more sustainable approach to training.

“We have made this training a requirement for our student success coaches. We want to make it open to any student who is in a position to serve students,” Schueller said, adding that the next certification training is April 15-18.

Students who participated in training left the exercises with a much better understanding of how they could serve students equitably and holistically, while building strong relationships to achieve academic success. This is consistent with the Success Advising Center’s mission.

“Through specific training methods we learned, I now feel more confident talking with other students and the conversations just feel more comfortable, for the both of us,” said Dalton Rosenbach, a student academic success coach who participated in the training.

Another academic success coach, Abby Cona, added, “I learned how to ask better questions, to make them more meaningful, not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Not only can we use this with the students we work with but even daily conversations we have with friends and parents."

Howard said one of the student academic success coaches, Sergio Del Toro, sat at a table with a student from the Learning Commons, who also attended the training. Del Toro attributes his success in college last year to that student’s support.

“It just goes to show that we have the right student in place to make these positive changes, but also, that no matter the skill set for some mentors or coaches, we all have room to grow and learn something new. That was a big part of this training as well as a chance for these students to improve on the skills they already possess,” Howard said.
Individuals who have questions should contact Schueller at (660) 543-4721 or email schueller@ucmo.edu.

In the  photo: University of Central Missouri students who participated in Certified Peer Educator Training to help other students at UCM succeed in competing a four-year degree recently gathered for a group photo during a session Feb. 15-16 at the Elliott Student Union.