By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The transition from high school to college was a “really big change” for Karlie Wies.
Away from her family for the first time, the University of Nebraska at Kearney freshman was a little overwhelmed by this new environment and the prospect of “figuring everything out on your own.”
Then she met Julie Everett.
An Albion native studying business administration, Wies was part of Everett’s Foundations for Learning class during the fall semester. That course covers the skills students need to be successful in college.
“The first day she walked in and welcomed us with such open arms,” Wies said. “She really just took us in like we were her own kids.”
Wies and Everett have been meeting regularly since then. They get together to talk about academics, personal relationships and anything else that’s on Wies’ mind.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s always in your corner, and that’s something Julie does a really good job of,” Wies said. “No matter what, she will be there for you. I’ve called her at 10 o’clock at night before with a problem and she will pick up the phone or she will answer your text within a matter of minutes.”
A former elementary teacher, instructional learning coach, professional development coordinator and math literacy consultant, Everett joined UNK last summer as the new student success coordinator. The position was created as part of a campuswide initiative to improve retention rates using proactive success coaching practices.
Working in the UNK Learning Commons, Everett currently supports 32 first-year students, providing an additional resource as they acclimate to college life.
“The research shows that if we can get students through their third semester of college, they’ll stay. They’ll commit,” Everett said. “If we provide that extra level of support for freshmen and get them through their first year, chances are they’ll come back and complete their degree.”
Patrick Hargon, director of the Learning Commons, calls Everett a “secret weapon” for students who may encounter a few obstacles along the path to graduation.
“When students come to us, they often do so because they believe they can’t do this,” he said. “Julie has an ability to build relationships and help students recognize there are people who believe in them. By the end of their freshman year, we want them to know that they can do this. And when they hit that next challenge, they’re ready to overcome it.”
Both Hargon and Everett emphasized a strengths-based approach that focuses on students’ abilities, rather than highlighting their deficits.
“It’s really about building their capacity and giving them the tools they need to be successful,” Everett said. “We’re equipping them not only for their freshman year but also for their next three years beyond that. And then, hopefully for life.”
Much like the Foundations for Learning class, Everett assists students in areas such as communication, problem-solving, time management, financial literacy, critical thinking, test-taking and learning strategies. She can also help with social-emotional challenges, whether that’s a dispute with a roommate or family conflict.
“A lot of times we immediately think a success coach is just going to help them with those academic pieces, but there is so much more to our students than that,” Everett said. “Our goal is to really home in on how we can holistically meet the needs of students so they feel like they belong here and they want to stay here.”
That takes a team effort.
Everett works closely with her colleagues in the Learning Commons, including the student peer tutors, as well as other campus resources such as the Academic Success Offices, Thompson Scholars Learning Community and Academic Advising and Career Development. When the Calvin T. Ryan Library renovation is complete, many of these resources will be located together on the second floor, establishing the new Loper Success Hub, a “one-stop shop” for student success and support services.
Although Everett’s main goal is to ensure students feel “comfortable and confident” heading into their second year on campus, she hopes her impact extends well beyond that. She wants the relationships she’s creating now to continue way past graduation.
“It may take a little bit of time for them to build trust with me, but once it’s established, it’s easy to let them know that I’m in their corner and I’m here for them no matter what,” Everett said.