Growing numbers of students over the past few years have found support meeting the challenges of learning at Stanford while navigating the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic through the Academic Coaching program at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Candice Kim (facing), peer academic coach and MD/PhD student at the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Education, facilitates a coaching session. (Image credit: Bao Phan)

“Even if they were highly successful in high school, many students find that the study approaches they used in the past don’t always work in college,” says Tim Randazzo, CTL’s director of Student Learning Programs. “On top of that, the typical college course tells you what to study but not necessarily how to study or learn the material effectively. That’s where CTL’s academic coaches come in – a coach can work with any student on any academic challenge, offering guidance and strategies that are individually tailored to the student’s particular needs.”

Academic coaches meet with students throughout the academic year to help them manage a variety of challenges, including procrastination, test preparation and anxiety, time management, reading and note-taking.

Student interest in the Academic Coaching program has grown significantly in recent years. Undergraduate coaching visits grew from around 640 in the 2019-20 academic year to over 1,000 in 2020-21, and graduate coaching visits soared from 237 to 745 at the same time. New peer-based coaching programs, alongside CTL’s professional coaches, have allowed CTL to meet the increased demand for learning resources. The program has launched tailored programming, such as graduate studios dedicated to technical academic skills like citation management and data visualization, study halls for large courses like CHEM 31A/31B and MATH 19, and custom, topic-focused workshops for departments, classes and dorms.

Former student Michelle Atallah was so passionate about helping other students that she came back to academic coaching after graduating. Atallah was a PhD candidate in cancer biology at Stanford and joined the first cohort of peer academic coaches. After graduating, she started a career in clinical science, but the rewarding work led her to return to coaching as a part-time professional coach at CTL.

“There’s something fulfilling about coaching students that I haven’t been able to replicate in any other job,” says Atallah. “I love asking creative questions to draw insights from my students – getting to know them very well is an important first step. Then, together we go through the process of collaborative problem solving to come up with personalized strategies to help them achieve their goals.”

Atallah also says the one-on-one coaching format enables students to make accelerated progress. “Students can be completely open about their struggles, with direct and immediate feedback from a coach well-versed in a wide variety of helpful techniques,” she says, and feedback from students consistently underscores the gains in confidence and increased productivity they experience from coaching sessions.

Students can begin academic coaching at any time, and appointments are often available within one to two weeks. To book an appointment, visit the Student Learning Programs website. CTL will also be recruiting and hiring new peer academic coaches and other peer learning support roles this spring. (Join the team of peer learning consultants.)

Cassandra Volpe Horii, associate vice provost for education and director of CTL, emphasizes how both students and peer coaches benefit: “Like in many other pursuits – sports, music, careers – the support of a skillful coach at the right time helps with academics, too. When you gain strategies for navigating college or graduate school studies, those are often meta-level abilities that will empower you for future learning as well. It’s exciting to see the self-direction and insight that emerge from coaching relationships, for everyone involved. I think the role of peer academic coaches will only grow from here and hope more students will seek out this rewarding opportunity.”

Learn more about the Center for Teaching and Learning at its website