For nearly 30 years, Veronica Killebrew has steered college students to success. A longtime veteran of an array of programs aimed at improving student performance, Killebrew knows better than most the commitment, hard work and hope necessary to take students from their first year through to graduation.
So when she was approached last summer about helping to build Warrior 360, Wayne State University’s hopeful new student success initiative, Killebrew readily embraced the opportunity.
“I have worked in student success for over 28 years, and I believe my calling is to help students — especially those from marginalized backgrounds — achieve their academic goals,” Killebrew said. “When the framework for Warrior 360 was drafted, the administration looked at the best practices to carry over into it. I was asked to become part of the Warrior 360 leadership team to implement those best practices and support the evolution of this new model.”
Where previous programs have attempted to serve specific groups within the student body, such as incoming freshmen, the recently launched Warrior 360 initiative is designed to be the most ambitious and comprehensive student success effort that the university has launched to date, aiming to serve eligible students at every class level and in each discipline throughout the university. Not only are students connected to a slew of academic resources, they are also paired with staff members who serve as “success coaches” and student peers who serve as “success partners,” with both groups working closely to support students inside and outside the classroom.
Equally as important, students in Warrior 360 remain in the program for the duration of their enrollment at Wayne State to better ensure their opportunity to earn their degree.
“I'd like to help establish the notion of being and feeling supported within each student under our care,” explained Latonia Garrett, WSU’s director of student success initiatives and academic partnerships, who oversees Warrior 360. “To that end, I envision a graduation-focused framework and system of support that partners with students through professional coaching; peer partnerships; and high-touch, care-driven performance monitoring. I envision that Warrior 360 will be central to our students’ experiences and forever a part of how they remember their time at Wayne State.”
Likewise, Garrett has worked to keep students at the center of the initiative in a variety of ways, and she’s always looking for new avenues for student involvement. In fact, she said, one of the most distinct aspects of Warrior 360 is its dependence upon student leadership.
“Our student leaders have hosted programs and workshops that have been critical in shaping our relationships with students,” Garrett said. “While this work will continue from our success partners, we also will look to bring students in more to our longer-term planning and pre-first-year programs.”
Peer success partner Nia Jones, a junior majoring in political science, said she relishes the opportunity to work with student peers and to forge relationships that may not always be achievable with older mentors.
“I work with incoming freshmen to familiarize them with campus resources as well as provide a leadership role to them,” said Jones. “I find Warrior 360 to be encouraging because it allows incoming freshmen to talk to someone who has been in their position and familiarize themselves with what the campus has to offer. I also think it creates a new relationship in the process with someone who is similar in age rather than consulting to someone who is older and may be, in a sense, more intimidating.”
Not unlike the students she works with, Jones said that she has also matured and developed over time, and credits her work in Warrior 360 as a big part of that growth. “Being involved with Warrior 360 has impacted me as a student by building my confidence, relationship-building and allowing me to learn from my mentees,” said Jones, who came to Michigan in 2017 from her native Steubenville, Ohio. “I feel like in my time in this program, I’ve grown as a student and as a person, and I’ve moved closer to my career goals. Being a mentor allows you to push past your comfort zone, which for me, as a former introvert, was reaching out and talking to others. It's a mutually beneficial experience for everyone involved.”
She said she hopes to see the program earn more exposure and, as it grows, pull more students into its fold. “I want students to know they don't have to dive into college on their own.”
Jesse Tomaizac, a senior from Lake Orion, Michigan, who also works as a Warrior 360 success partner, echoed Jones when he explained how the help he offers to the five students assigned to him extends beyond classwork.
“I try to support them in a variety of ways,” said Tomaizac. “They can come to me with academic, social, athletic and other miscellaneous questions about Wayne State and living as a college student, all of which I help them navigate and overcome. The job itself is really rewarding because I know how intense the transition from high school to college can be. What I find encouraging about this program is the fact that the intention is to simply support these students in any way possible. Furthermore, it creates really great friendships between everyone involved.”
Meanwhile, Kimberlyn Tyson, another success partner, said that the responsibilities of working with other students underscores the need to model academic excellence. “Working with students does encourage me to keep myself together during the school year,” she said. “It would be difficult to be a good role model and peer mentor if I don’t even exemplify a decent student.”
Along with the student leaders, the other key component of Warrior 360 is the support provided by staff and faculty, many of whom serve as success coaches. For instance, Keanu Respess, a Warrior 360 success coach, said that a lot of her focus revolves around helping students hone their study and time-management skills, teaching them to access university resources and, of course, encouraging their steady academic development and progress.
“As success coaches, we meet with our students twice a month to build rapport,” Respess explained. “My hope for Warrior 360 is that we impart support in such a meaningful way that students feel that they belong at Wayne State, students know that they have the adequate knowledge to thrive and students believe that graduating with a degree is obtainable.”