Life-Skills Coach Brings New Dimension to Student Advising
When Christy Rotman steps onto the floor in the Georges Student Center in Clemons Library on a busy Tuesday afternoon, students are already waiting to see her. She’s one of a dozen different kinds of counselors, advisers and tutors available to undergraduates looking for help, but she isn’t the kind you might expect to find on a university campus. With an advanced degree in counseling and experience in both mentoring and college advising, Rotman is one of a small but growing number of professionals bringing life-skills counseling to higher education.
Instead of helping students navigate the complexities of their degree requirements, apply for student loans, or search for summer internships, Rotman helps with the skills they need to succeed at a place like UVA—problem-solving skills they may not have learned, or even needed, in high school or community college.
One of her advisees explains, “When I first heard ‘college life skills coach,’ I wasn’t quite sure what that was. I met with her, and she just wanted me to talk…talk about myself, which is awkward, right?”
But listening to students is at the heart of what Christy Rotman does, and it’s how she helps students confront the unique challenges that college life throws at them.
“My approach is to hear their story and to understand what, exactly, is going on,” Rotman says. She's not there to give them generic solutions, she says. She’s there to help them arrive at their own solutions—the ones most likely to work.
“Not every student needs to see a licensed therapist; they just need some help adjusting to college—study skills, time management, sleep hygiene, making new friends, finding networks, balancing academics…those kinds of things,” says Rachel Most, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs for the College whose office created the position of College Life Skills Coach. “A lot of our students struggle with things that don't quite require a counselor. The counseling center needs to see the students who are truly at risk and need therapy. But a lot of students need something in-between, and that led us to Christy.”
“We were all really impressed with her background and, honestly, her demeanor,” Most said. And, she says, Rotman does “a really good job of making people comfortable."
Students find Rotman through her web page, or they’re referred through UVA Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) or the Association Deans, or they find her at the Georges Student Center where she holds drop-in hours on Tuesdays (2–4 p.m.) and Wednesdays (10:30 a.m.–noon). She also hosts a variety of free workshops on managing time and stress, improving study skills and finding ways to get a better night’s sleep.
One-on-one consultations with Rotman last about an hour and give students a chance to dig deeper into the issues that they bring and to find the solutions that make the most sense.
“I came from an advising role that was similar to what the deans do,” Rotman says. “I would have 15-minute appointments with students, but I never had the privilege or the opportunity to get to go
deeper. You can only do so much in 15 minutes, and this position felt like a chance to continue that type of advising interaction but at a much deeper and meaningful level.”
Keonna Gravely was facing the prospect of applying to graduate school when she met with Rotman for the first time. A full-time student with four part-time jobs, Gravely knew she needed the time to focus on giving it her best shot—time she was afraid she wouldn’t have.
At UVA, taking on too much “is what everyone’s doing,” Keonna says. She knew she needed to give up one of her jobs, but she didn’t know how to do it. Her employer had a big event coming up, and Keonna had an important part to play. “Being part of a team, I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” Keonna says. “That was my biggest fear.”
Rotman helped make the transition out of the job a little easier—helping her find her replacement, working with her to practice the conversation she would have with her supervisor, making sure that she left things in good order.
“I did it!” Gravely says about the experience, “I’m free!” She has the time she needs now to prepare for the next chapter in her life, she’s learned some things about herself and what’s important to her, and she’s found opportunities to enjoy her last year at UVA. “Christy has helped me,” she says, “in more ways that she knows.”