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ollege was not part of the plan, as
far as Lonnie Armstrong's parents
were concerned. One of MCC's
two Achievement Coaches, Armstrong
understands all too well the challenges
many first-generation college students face.
"I was expected go out and get work," he
explained. "If I took a class, my parents couldn't
understand why I wasn't working." Seeing few
opportunities in his hometown of Fresno, Calif.,
Armstrong enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
"When I left the Navy, I went to college in New
Hampshire (at Rivier University) and got flack for
that," he recalled. His folks expected him to be a
career Navy man and retire with a pension. "My
parents still don't understand."
Today, Armstrong is close to earning a doctorate
in education from Rivier. And, working alongside
Melissa Welch, MCC's second Achievement
Coach, he is eager to provide students with the
kinds of support he didn't receive.
The work of the Achievement Coaches is focused
on closing the "achievement gap" a documented
disparity of college-completion rates among
students who are considered "at risk" (minority,
low-income and first-generation), and
students who have traditionally had
access to higher education.
Created in 2014, the Achievement Coach positions
stemmed from a Massachusetts Performance
Incentive Grant project, titled Pathways to
Achievement, Completion, Career and Transfer
(PCCT). Based on the Complete College America
Guided Pathways to Success model, the overall
goal is to encourage students to stay in college
and graduate.
Achievement Coaches work within two academic
divisions Business, Education & Public Service,
and Humanities & Social Science to increase
student success and retention, explained Welch.
She and Armstrong coordinate closely with
faculty, advising centers and student-support
services to provide a holistic advising approach.
Welch has worked at Middlesex for seven years,
previously as Director of Leadership and Student
Activities. This new position really appealed to
her. "I loved the idea of working one-on-one with
students in particular the opportunity to work
within under-represented populations and with
first-generation college students," she said.
Like Armstrong, Welch is also a first-
generation college student, but she had a very
different experience. Her parents immigrated to
the United States from the Azores, Portugal. Her
father left Portugal at 17, with an elementary
school education. Her mother came to the U.S. at
the age of 9 and graduated from high school here.
"My mom came from a very traditional family,
so college was not an option because she was a
woman," explained Welch. "It was very important
to her that her daughters go to college."
Working as secretary to a high school guidance
director gave her mother insight into the
college-application process. "My mom was
definitely the trailblazer for us," said Welch, who
attended Providence College on a full Martin
Luther King Scholarship.
"It was never a question (whether we would at-
tend college). The language around our house was
always about going to college," she said.
MCC's Achievement Coaches each work with a
cohort of students referred to them by faculty
and staff. Armstrong focuses on students in the
Humanities & Social Sciences division, and Welch
concentrates on Business, Education & Public
Service students.
The coaching process begins with a series of
conversations, getting to the root of the issue
holding the student back, whether it lies in their
home life, finances, health or a combination of
several factors.
The focus then turns to steering students toward
resources, such as free tutoring, peer-lead study
groups, and support services for low-income,
first-generation and disabled students.
Some of Armstrong and Welch's recent initiatives
include hiring three peer mentors, successful
Achievement Coaches
Achievement Coaches Melissa Welch (front row, center) and Lonnie Armstrong (second row, far right) with their three
peer mentors: Gloria Asamoah (front row, left), Anamaria Jorge (second row, left) and John Balbuena (back row).
Steering Students to the Resources
They Need to Succeed and Graduate