Motlow’s Rhonda Cotham earns Student Success and Retention award

Rhonda Cotham, Director of Student Success

Rhonda Cotham, Director of Student Success

Motlow State’s Rhonda Cotham, director of student success, was recently recognized as a model leader for innovation in the field of college completion at the annual conference of the Tennessee Association for Student Success and Retention (TASSR). She was the recipient of its 2017 Faculty of the Year Award in a Learning Support Program.

Ms. Cotham, a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University with a bachelor’s degree in Management and Human Relations and a master’s degree in Education Administration and Supervision, has served the College for 30 years in a variety of positions. While recognized for her faculty role in teaching First Year Freshman Experience, she leads a team of completion coaches who are committed to ensuring Motlow students achieve their academic goals. Completion coaches are preparation and persistence professionals whose mission is to serve as college guides, monitor student risk, and provide intervention advising and referral as needed to ensure that students matriculate on to their four-year goals or are ready to move successfully into the workforce. Completion coaching is an individualized, holistic, multi-year commitment to a student’s well-being. Research indicates that students fostered by completion coaches are five-times more likely to graduate.

In contemporary education management programs, completion coaches are considered vital support for all students. They are uniquely essential in ensuring the success of first-generation college students (first in their family to attend college), students considered at-risk due to socio-economic status, imbalance of home-work-school demands, and those with limited or no family or social champions of their academic ambitions. The job of a completion coach is considered that of a hybrid advisor-mentor-interventionist and is best filled by those who care deeply about improving the lives of others, have a deep sense of commitment to the institution where they serve, and are passionate advocates for the power of education.

Interim president Hilda Tunstill noted that, “Director Cotham leads a group of professionals who must have a vast knowledge of college programs, financial aid, scholarships, student and academic policies, campus and community resources, and be able to manage a case load of scores of students; and are capable of building trust and developing meaningful relationships with new learners. They must also be proficient statisticians who can track large datasets and interpret the changing needs of our growing student body. These are high-energy positions that demand strong interpersonal and communication skills for which Director Cotham must recruit, train and serve as leader. She is a model mentor for our completion coach program and we are delighted that her leadership has earned the recognition of her peers and state educators.”

Cotham has played a significant role in Motlow’s Quality Enhancement Plan, where First Year Experience (FYE) courses teach new students the skills to be successful by ensuring they have the critical thinking skills, engagement levels, study habits, and knowledge of college programs and services to ensure their persistence through to goal. Cotham is an established FYE instructor and enthusiastic contributor to the growth of that instructional program. She said of her award, “I am honored to receive this recognition. I am so passionate about our students and their success whether I am working one-on-one, teaching or just being a part of an amazing team.”

Seeing a completion coach at Motlow State is an elective resource. For those who have not yet met, or need to meet again, with their completion coach, they are encouraged to make an appointment and develop a relationship with a team committed to supporting student success.

TASSR seeks to be a leading voice in student success and retention in higher education in Tennessee and the Southeast. The organization reports that Cotham was nominated by several colleagues for her unwavering support of student success, commitment to Motlow, and for creating a culture that values respect, collegiality, higher learning and student co-curricular involvement. Advocates for her noted that her award was well deserved as she has impacted colleagues outside of the walls of Motlow with her innovation of programs such as the best practice orientation program to implementation of a benchmark completion coach model.