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Mane Connect Success Coaches Help Students Make the Most of Their First Year at ODU

By Betsy Hnath

College athletes looking to enhance skills and performance turn to coaches to help them succeed. In 2016, Old Dominion University began applying that to the college experience, launching Mane Connect, a success-coaching program for first-year students.

Mane Connect provides a group of freshmen with 20- to 30-minute weekly sessions with "success coaches," and workshops covering everything from how to manage time to how to handle a budget.

According to Sherri Watson, director of both the coaching program and the Center for Major Exploration, the University selects participants for Mane Connect based on a variety of criteria -- including being more than 150 miles from their hometown or receiving a grant or scholarship.

Watson said coaches are chosen based on multiple abilities and strengths, contributing to the program's diversity.

"In fact," Watson said, "I think that's what makes our team so dynamic. All of our coaches are passionate, empathetic, creative and have excellent listening skills."

Since 2016, Watson has seen "overwhelmingly positive responses" from participants.

"We do student reflections at the end the semester, and each time, we hear from students how helpful it was to have someone to talk to and assist them in navigating and being successful at ODU," Watson said.

Based on 2016-17 outcomes, Mane Connect has proved to be a success.

Freshmen in the program had on average a 0.22 higher GPA and and returned to their sophomore year at a 9 percent higher rate than similar freshmen who were not in Mane Connect.

For student Nirlange Heriveaux, Watson provided help with setting and meeting objectives.

"Having a success coach is kind of like having an accountability partner," Heriveaux said in an online video. "When I met with my coach, Sherri Watson, we talked about my goals for the semester. From there on, she kept encouraging me and giving me advice on how I would meet those goals."

Next year the program will relocate two coaches to residence halls, allowing students access on a more flexible schedule. Mane Connect will also seek referrals of new students, which means more opportunity for Watson and her group to make a difference.

"This is more than a job for myself and our team," she said. "We are making real-life impacts with our program, and we are part of the greater community that supports students and their success at ODU."

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