A Day in the Life of a Collegiate Life Coordinator

John Marinilli is our Collegiate Life Coordinator. He’s affable and light-hearted. It’s easy to see why he enjoys such good rapport with students. We caught up with him by phone to talk about his work with Focus Collegiate.

What does a Collegiate Life Coordinator actually do?
I help students that have had some type of disruption to their college experience. I help them get back on track and establish healthy routines to focus on their success.

I basically bike around the city seeing students on campus or at the office. As much as possible, I try to meet them where they are on campus. Today for example, I’ll be starting out at the office reviewing the week’s plan with a Northeastern student, and then off to BU to a lunch event for parents, and then back to Berklee to help a student review some assignments that are due tomorrow. Later today, I’ll continue a referral process I started last week, helping an international student who could benefit from a more specialized, individual clinical intervention. She could use some more support balancing academic responsibilities with self-care, the life challenges that arise when you’re living thousands of miles away from home, and dealing with performance anxiety, and the stress of making new friends. It’s sometimes a matter of just adjusting to the typical college balancing act, then at other times, those stressors are exacerbated and require more attention.

What do you do in those meetings?
When I get to campus, I’m often following up on something we’ve already started. We usually have a plan and a due date in mind. Then I open up our Student Support Agreement which we have designed together, based on three self-assessments the student has already completed. I summarize the results and we refer back to their strengths in order to capitalize on their responses that show strengths in personal habits, character, and approaches to challenges.

We review those strengths and talk about how things are going. Did they follow the system that they set up? I start with reinforcement of the positives that we’re seeing and then work into an exploration of the challenges noting differences in approach and results. I’ll ask things like ‘How are you monitoring your success?’ ‘Is it just a matter of finishing the assignment or are there other indicators of success?’

We work on honing self-assessment skills. It’s different for each student, but self-care is always part of the conversation. I follow up with nutrition, hygiene, fitness, healthy routines, and just check in with gentle reminders.

That sounds personal. How are these conversations received?
I’ve had many, many years of training and practice in family therapy. The last thing you want to do is be the expert in someone else’s life. Guess what? You’re not. The days of having your life explained to you while you lay on the master’s leather couch are dead – if they ever existed. I don’t want to try to be the expert in someone else’s life; I want them to teach me what they know about themselves. It improves their self-awareness and clarifies what they’re trying to discover about themselves.

I show them that I trust their self-assessment and ask questions that open them up to uncovering more. It’s not “I know what you need to do to fix yourself,” I want to find it out from them, then I offer objective, non-judgmental guidance.

Usually I wait until we have a good rapport and use humor. I keep it light in order to build trust. I’m from a certain part of town or maybe a certain generation where we kid around and use humor in a way that allows us to be direct. The more you like someone, the more playful you can be with them. I don’t usually feel any defensiveness from students.

Give me an example of your relationship with one of your students:
I have a student studying math. His knowledge of math is far beyond my own, however, we are looking together at the patterns that arise in his relationship to academic work, identifying pitfalls, recognizing the emotional impact of frustration on things like task initiation. As patterns emerge, we talk about what it is that he’s avoiding and what beliefs impede his ability to ask for help. We look at ways to face challenges and create new narratives that start to build the confidence he needs to get the help he needs rather than simply avoiding what’s uncomfortable. The pace of college is just too quick to hide for two weeks when things get uncomfortable.

Why are you so good at what you do?
Thanks… Being genuine is really important; people can tell when you’re not. When you’re coming from a place of non-judgment, when you regard people positively and with hope, when you show them you believe in them, they want to be around you and trust you. They ultimately become confident enough to face the things they need to face – in the order that they have the energy to face them.

What do you want parents to know about your work?
That independence is paramount, however, the path to independence requires the right amount of support, not just more support, but the right amount at the right times. The same goes for autonomy. There is a balance. Sometimes the student needs the space to be challenged—and sometimes even fail—in order to keep moving toward independence – too much space is not the answer, they need that balance.

What do you want students to know?
I want them to know that being truly honest with ourselves is always hard, if not the hardest thing that we can do. It requires a level of maturity—and we’re going to ask them for a level of maturity—that some adults never really achieve. The more open and honest they can be with themselves, the deeper the work we can do, the more lasting and meaningful it will be for them.