Meet The Coaches

Laura James

Laura It seems to Laura that she’s always been a coach. “My first coaching experience was when I was in Middle School. I mentored girls who were younger than me in my community, then I coached cheerleading in High School. I’ve been a teacher too. I always view the relationships with my students as coaching and tutoring. Coaching seems to come naturally to me. I don’t walk into a room and say, ‘I’m in charge.’ it just seems to fall that way. Sometimes I end up the leader whether I want to be or not.”

Laura has been a KCTCS Learn On Demand Student Success Coach since 2012. Laura feels her undergraduate and masters degrees in education combined with her studies in educational psychology have prepared her to be a Student Success Coach. Some things Laura has observed as a coach are:

  • Every student has different needs and should be treated as a unique person. Laura realizes that not everyone is a self-starter and some people need more support during their educational journey.
  • Sometimes as a coach you have to let people vent and just listen – but then you help them solve the problem they really contacted you about.
  • Some online students think they can get a degree faster than is realistic. Many students just apply and want to start taking classes instead of trying to understand that there is a sequence of events like orientation, COMPASS tests, and requisites.

The online students Laura coaches range in ages across six decades. There are times Laura is surprised by the students she coaches. One woman in her mid-sixties was very computer saavy and had no problem with her online math classes. A man in his fifties was a challenge for Laura to coach when he expected to get work-life credit for some classes without any proof of his work experience. Laura recalls another young woman who simply could not understand why she needed a computer to take online classes. Laura never knows what to expect when she gets a phone call from a student. Laura’s advice for people considering Learn On Demand is simple, “A lot of people see the words ‘online’ and think it will be a breeze. Students have to do the same amount of work as they would in a classroom. The online program is for people who need flexible schedules and may not live near a campus. You have to be self-motivated and disciplined to get the work done, AND you have to manage your time well to be successful.”

In her spare time Laura is a big college basketball fan. She freely claims her loyalty as a fan for both the University of Kentucky and Murray State University basketball teams.

Michia Stewart

Michia Michia’ s motto is “No student should ever feel like a name and a number on a piece of paper”. In all of her years in education, she has always attempted to make every student a priority. Getting to know them and working together one-on one to map out every aspect of their education is key. With an extensive background in recruiting, admissions, and mentoring, she has worked with students from all over with different backgrounds and educational goals. Making students feel welcome seems to come naturally to her even in a virtual setting, her personality and desire to help, is quickly apparent. Integrating her students and making them feel welcome and a part of the college is very important.

Whether it is sending out a letter, a birthday email, or even a message simply saying, “I am proud of you”, staying in constant communication and letting them know she cares, is important. Michia feels that building that bond is especially vital in the virtual world for two main reasons: First, she wants her students to understand that she is not a virtual robot with scripted preplanned responses. She is a real person with a heart as big as the Bluegrass. Secondly, building rapport with the student builds trust. That trust leads to open and honest lines of communication between Michia and her students. With an “all hands on deck” approach, Michia feels that fostering a student’s success comes from meaningful actions of many people in the college working toward the best possible outcome, assuring the student is well taken care of. As a Success Coach, she feels that academic coaching and encouragement is vital and reminds her students that just because classes are online, does not make them any easier, just more convenient. She never wants to set her students up for false expectations, instead reiterate to them the importance of their individual success while explaining everything in detail, every step of the way! Education is intended to help you build on the foundation of your tomorrow.

Beyond personalized academic support, Michia is here to listen and provide valuable moral support as well. Everyone views the world of education in a different light. Some students have experienced bad academic situations in the past, while others simply fear the unknown… but guess what? That is OK. As your coach, Michia will always have your best interest at heart and promises to do her very best to make you feel comfortable with the format so you will be prepared to do your very best. She'll leave you with this, “the expert in anything was once a beginner. What we learn becomes part of who we become”.

Josh Petrey

Josh Josh comes to the role of a Student Success Coach by way of being a youth group coach in high school and a college recruiter. As a college recruiter Josh said, “It was all about building relationships and listening to what people are hoping to accomplish by going to college.” Now as a Learn On Demand coach, Josh supports about 200 online students. His own college experience provided Josh with an educational ministries degree plus some additional training around working with and advising adult learners. Josh’s approach to coaching is straightforward, “First I like to get to know the person I’m coaching then what they want to learn. It’s important that people know I care about them.”

When his phone rings, Josh never knows what type of questions he may get. Financial aid is always high on people’s list. Not surprisingly, a lot of Josh’s calls are about specific courses needed for a degree – often Josh gets calls from people who don’t know where or how to start the Learn On Demand program. Josh sees a lot of people going into the business program – management seems to be most popular. “I recently worked with a person who was undecided about the Learn On Demand program. I found out that one of her parents had some serious medical issues. As we talked about the program, I was able to help her see the value of being an online student so she could also be a home care provider.”

The best advice Josh can give someone thinking about online college is, “Don’t panic! I know that’s easy to say but some people get worried and call me if they can’t log in. I talk to people who have never taken a class online and they often need a lot of encouragement. It’s not that they are intimidated by the online experience, they are just worried about not knowing what to do – especially if there isn’t a teacher there to ask questions.”

Amanda Stephens

Amanda “When I tell people I’m a coach, I usually get asked what that means. People who know me realize I don’t mean a ‘sports coach’. I tell them that I encourage, teach, and show people how they can go further with their education – virtually.”

Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Amanda got her first experience as a coach when she worked managing a retail store. Yes, the job was to move products but Amanda found herself encouraging people to do their best work. After starting in KCTCS admissions, Amanda realized that she was guiding and influencing students about which classes they should take. As a part-time virtual student, Amanda had a good experience with her own academic advisor that took her on a path to become a Learn On Demand Student Success Coach.

Amanda likes to take a “gentle hand” at first to encourage online students. She listens to students and finds that the relationships that develop play a part in helping them succeed. Enrollment, especially pre-requisite classes, is often a topic that Amanda gets calls about. Amanda sees that most of the LOD students she coaches have full time jobs and families. Most of the online students are mature and understand they need to be disciplined in order to succeed. I find that students who respond to their emails quickly seem to be “on top of things” – those who respond slowly or don’t respond may not be ready for an online college program. So far, she has only had one student ask, “Do I really need a computer to do Learn On Demand?”

Amanda’s advice to online students is this; “Don’t wait to ask for help or contact a Student Success Coach. Some students don’t realize what pre-requisites they need to take or may be missing transcripts for classes they took at another college. Those are things that may delay enrolling in a module or a course and can often be avoided with a little help from a Coach.”

Karen Graycarek

Karen GraycarekKaren Graycarek joined the Learn on Demand coaching team in 2014.  Prior to joining KCTCS, Karen was a coach through the TAACCCT grant at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College. She primarily worked with business students obtaining degrees, diplomas or certificates through Learn on Demand. Education has been a theme throughout Karen’s life and career. From a very early age Karen knew she wanted to be involved in education. “When I was just 5, I had my parents install a chalkboard in our basement so I could play school.”  Karen received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and taught fourth grade for six years.  It was during this time that she felt she needed to cast a wider net and decided to open up her own supplemental education business.  Through this she was able to assist students from pre-school to adult.  She found the experiences of working with all students rewarding but felt a special connection with the adults she assisted in obtaining their GED or college level course work.  “I can’t explain how satisfying it was to work with an adult who struggles and watch as they achieve a goal that they felt was impossible before.” After 8 years of running her business, Karen made the decision to close her business and work for Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.  This was a difficult decision for Karen but she now feels strongly that she is exactly where she is meant to be.

Karen likes to have conversations with the students she coaches so she can understand their particular situation. “Everyone comes from different circumstances and has different needs, the more I know, the better I feel I can be an effective coach.”  Karen would like to see every student accomplish their goals. In addition to being their coach she is also their cheerleader.  “Some students need more encouragement than others, I am happy to give a pep talk or work through a student’s struggle if it means they stay in school.” Currently Karen is working towards her Masters in Adult and Higher Education. “I too have to balance work, family and school.  I understand the struggles the students have and can relate to the challenges.”

Karen would advise a new student to ask lots of questions.  “Students enter Learn on Demand with a wide variety of academic experiences.  It is easy to assume that the student knows things that they don’t. I love it when my students ask me questions because it helps them to feel more relaxed.  They know they always have someone they can go to and that brings them peace of mind.”  Karen has learned, through her studies, having a personal connection with the institution is a key factor in student success.

Chris Hockenberry

Chris When people ask Chris what he does for a living, he has a very clear answer. “I’m a facilitator helping people find the courses they need, getting them access, and directing them to experts.” Although he is one of the newer Student Success Coaches for Learn On Demand, Chris has extensive experience with the “Celebrate Recovery” program and is putting his Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Counseling to good use. Chris has taken online classes in statistics, psychology, and IT so he has firsthand experience the workings of the Learn On Demand program.

Chris often finds that when people contact him, he first needs to let them “vent” a little before they are ready to talk about the reason for their call or the problem they need help with. “I’m honest and empathetic with people. I want them to know they aren’t just a number.” Chris’ early years as a military “brat” and his own service in the US Army have served him well in developing an understanding that people from all cultures and walks of life have, at their core, similar needs and goals. Education is one of those goals. “Education is wonderful and everyone should gain as much as they are able. If you want to be in the Learn On Demand program, you have to be self-motivated and keep yourself on time and on track. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’ve found that online teachers often put more into their online courses so you will have to learn the course materials better than if you were taking the class in person.”

Chris enjoys his role helping people with Learn On Demand questions. Chris tries to contact people early in the process to make sure they can successfully register for their first course or module. He has observed that many people are “skimmers” and often miss details like the timing for financial aid approvals. One advantage Chris says he brings to the job is his previous experience working with the Institutional Research Department at the Southeast campus. Over the past 5 years Chris has memorized the names and phone numbers of almost all of the faculty and staff at the Southeast campus. “I’m able to connect people quickly to the person they need.”