Mandy Moore on the TU Center for Student Success

Mandy Moore with her family
Mandy Moore with her husband, Bryson, and children, Lydia and Barrett.

When Mandy Moore mentors college students, she often thinks about her own rosy-faced children who are ages 6 and 7. Although they haven’t sweat through their first SAT test or written three drafts of an admission essay, her kids help shape her passion for student success in higher education.

“Any time I had a student in my classroom, or when I advise students, I see them as somebody’s Lydia or Barrett,” Moore said. (Lydia and Barrett are Moore’s two children.) “Every student who steps foot on this campus, they are someone’s most important person, and that drives my work.”

More on Moore

As the inaugural executive director of The University of Tulsa’s student success team, Moore is an integral part of the new TU Student Success Center. Moore has a doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas where her research focused on first-year college student experiences, collegiate honors programs and good practices in higher education. She received her graduate degree in business administration from John Brown University, where she also was the director of first-year experience.

In the classroom, Moore was an assistant professor of marketing and management who received tenure in May at Rogers State University, and it was her experience teaching freshmen that influenced her views on student success. “I watched students in my classroom struggle – but not necessarily with the curriculum,” she added. “There is a pattern I’ve seen at every university. Even at the best universities in the country, we unintentionally present roadblocks usually with policies and procedures that are difficult to navigate.”

At TU, Moore is building a team of professional student success coaches and peer mentors who will help students transition to college life and a fulfilling career. “Before students ever step foot on this campus to start classes, they will have someone with the sole focus of coaching them to make the most of their time at TU and get them thinking about their imagined future,” she said.

What is a student success coach?

Adjusting to college can be an unsettling time, but with TU’s new success coaches, students will be paired with a professional coach who is actively devising a strategy for their success. Before students enroll in their first class, coaches will ask, “For you to feel good about your experience when you walk across that stage at graduation, what kind of opportunities do you want to have here?”

Concerns with making friends, academics, study habits and even finances are topics coaches will discuss. They can also refer students to counseling, a faculty member or the Center for Student Academic Success. Even high-achieving students already planning on attending graduate school at a prestigious institution can benefit from the advising. “Our team can coach them to that desired future and connect them with faculty to start talking about undergraduate research,” Moore explained.

First-year student experience

In her research, Moore found that when students are on a college campus, they ask two pivotal questions: “Am I cared for, and do I belong here?” Students continue to ask those questions while waiting in line for a parking permit, sitting in their first college class and moving into a dorm room. Every touchpoint needs to express care.

As a professor, Moore sometimes needed to show care by being straightforward. As an example, she might say to a student, “I care about you, and the behaviors that you’re exhibiting in my class are going to get in the way of your goals. You need to grow up and work harder. I am entering this difficult conversation with you because I care about you.” These one-on-one discussions prevent students from falling through the cracks.

It is also common for students to suffer from imposter syndrome. “They think, ‘I’m not smart enough to be here. I’ve just duped everyone, and at some point, they are going to find me out,'” she explained. Moore wants to combat negative internal dialogue that encourages students to shut down when facing a challenge. “When you get a C on a test, it’s not because you don’t belong here,” she said. “It’s because college is really hard, and you need to learn new behaviors to excel.”

No more roadblocks

At another institution where she previously worked, Moore had a student drop out of college for one reason: They had a blowout on a tire. The commuter student’s impaired car was the final deterrent from getting a degree. These are the types of stories that keep Moore up at night, but TU already is preventing this kind of outcome by providing emergency funding for students. “If my student with the bad tire had been at TU, there would have been resources to help them get through that blip,” she said.

Student success coaches will help alleviate roadblocks. “I want students to have to wrestle with their academic work or working out conflict with their roommate in their dorm,” she said. “The challenge should not come from navigating a university.”

Moore believes that every person on a college campus plays a critical role in student success. She encourages the campus community to remember “every interaction that we have with students is a student success conversation.”