Peer Coach Helps Students Adjust to College Life

OCC Peer Coach Philip Henderson
Sep 15, 2021

Students face many challenges as they begin their college careers. Olney Central College hopes to ease the transition with its new Peer Coach Program.

Created by Title III Advising Specialist Ashley Bigard, the initiative connects incoming freshmen with a current student through OCC’s text platform, SignalVine.

Sometimes students have a question, but they may be reluctant to contact their professor or even an advisor, Bigard explained. With a peer coach, the situation is less intimidating because they are asking a fellow student.

The program provides a new means of conveying information and ensuring students’ needs are being met, she added. The initiative also aligns with the Title III Grant objective of reaching out to at-risk students.

“It’s something we talked about years ago and has been in the works,” Bigard said. “I researched what other colleges were doing. Many of the ideas for our peer coach came from Eastern Illinois University, which has a successful program. We are starting out small and hoping to expand in the future.”

Peer coaches support the academic transition of students to OCC through individualized coaching to assist them in adjusting to college life, Bigard said.

Peer coaches help students by making personalized recommendations regarding campus resources; by encouraging engagement on campus and in the community; by facilitating study, time management, and other academic success skills; and, by modeling responsible and healthy decision-making. Coaches continuously check in with new students on their experiences at OCC.

Philip Henderson, of Flora, is looking forward to serving as the first peer coach as he begins his second semester at OCC. A member of TRIO Student Support Services, Henderson plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering after completing his studies at OCC.

“When I first started here, I had so many questions, so I know what it’s like,” Henderson said. “I want to be a resource students can reach out to and receive help. This is a great opportunity. I get to work really close with the advisors and professors while meeting other students and learning more about the college myself.”

Since joining the program, Henderson has been familiarizing himself with the college website to better direct students to available resources. He also assisted with Orientation Days where he had an opportunity to introduce himself to new students while offering advice and suggestions for getting involved on campus.

During the first week of the semester, he reached out to 173 students via text to ask how their classes were going and if they had any questions. He received 32 responses.

“I’m looking forward to being utilized and I’m ready to help,” Henderson said. “Students can reach out to me with any questions they may have. If I have the answer, I can let them know immediately, but if it’s a question I don’t know the answer to, I will find the answer and get back with them.”

Bigard is excited about the response so far and hopes to add a second peer coach later in the academic year. Students interested in the position can contact Bigard at or call 618-395-7777, ext. 2005.