Like many of the students he coaches, Christopher Kozma’s career path took a variety of twists and turns before he landed at ASU. He worked as a trader in the deregulated energy market, selling electricity to the state of California. He experienced life as a small business owner, co-running a window treatment company with his brother. He also spent 11 years at the University of Phoenix, ultimately becoming an academic advisor who worked with students from admission to graduation.
Christopher had his eye on ASU for a long time, but being a single parent made him hesitant about a major career shift. That all changed with the opening of the university’s Success Coaching Center for online students.
“I wanted to be part of a culture that puts students’ dreams first,” he says.“I love the approach ASU Online has of not just getting students through those first few courses, but on working with students in a supporting role throughout their entire academic experience.”
As a Success Coach, it’s Christopher’s job to partner with students to help them be successful in the goals they are working toward; identify and overcome potential obstacles toward those goals that can appear in a student’s academic, professional or personal life; act as a sounding board when things are stressful; and provide the student with a tangible university relationship, a valuable resource that can often be lost in an online setting.
“I help cultivate a support network for the student, both at school and at home,” he explains. “Many are working remotely and have busy lives, so there is a certain disconnect from the university. The ability to have a relationship with someone who knows them and knows their story, who can be there at a moment’s notice if something goes wrong, is incredibly important.”
He shares the story of a student he recently began working with, a freshman who is the first in her family to go to school. While she is incredibly motivated and eager to learn, the immense pressure of supporting her family combined with a lack of people to turn to for advice weighed heavily on her mind as she began navigating through her course load. For Christopher, it was critical to show the student how to take proactive steps toward success from the onset.
“We created a plan that allows her to fit school in during the week, and you could hear the relief in her voice,” he says. “She is now able to go to class with the odds in her favor. So many people start school and the excitement quickly turns to frustration — having the right approach for the first few classes is critical. Because our conversation went so well, we now talk about how to get through every week. I want her first experience at school to be as positive as possible.”
In order to become adept at handling each student’s unique set of needs, Christopher underwent four weeks of training to learn skills specific to success coaching. Coming from an advisory role, he was used to problem solving for students; but as a coach, it’s even more important to guide students toward solving those problems on their own, building confidence and self-sufficiency.
“We want them to be aware of how their learning is progressing, so that they will reach out when things aren’t going as smoothly as they’d like,” he says. “It’s a two-way street. We need students to know that when there is a concern, they have access to resources that will get them through the challenge.”
The sense of reward gained from helping students work through tough times is something that, for Christopher, will never diminish — a benefit of the job he credits to the team around him.
“I’m surrounded by people whose sole job is to support students,” he says. “They are so positive, energetic and collaborative. It’s empowering to be part of a team that maximizes learning potential. When we hit the floor, we are continually getting feedback and notes for improvement. It’s a great support system.”