Equipped with a master’s in counselor education, coach empowers diverse students to overcome educational trauma, graduate

Prior to joining Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE), Nia Henderson had earned her master’s degree in counselor education and worked at a variety of schools and universities. When she saw the opportunity to work with adult students at SHCOE, she knew she’d found not only a new avenue of education, but a new path for her career, as well. 

“I pursued this opportunity so that I could work with a wider array of students, including those who come from diverse backgrounds and those who have been traditionally marginalized,” Henderson said. “I know the importance of having someone in your corner when you haven’t had that before. It can make all the difference in believing in yourself and, ultimately, achieving your goals.”

Paving a path for those who struggled in inner-city schools, or sacrificed school for family

As a coach, Henderson works with many students who dropped out of high school because they were needed at home. 

“Being an academic coach has opened my eyes to how alternative education can pave a path for people who have had to make sacrifices for family,” she said. 

While Henderson herself followed a traditional track to completing her education, she uses that experience to advocate for her students. 

“I know what a typical inner-city school environment looks like, how it can be a challenge for some students, and the educational trauma it can cause,” she said. “And I’ve witnessed first-hand how parents and guardians can push mainstream education as the answer because they think it’s the only option available.”

“This program is helping to change people’s minds about what education looks like. I see adult students who are also parents becoming more open to non-traditional schools for their own kids—increasing access to opportunities and igniting a cycle of success for generations to come.”

Offering support from day one 

To establish a rapport with her students, Henderson leverages her “welcome calls” (i.e., calls academic coaches facilitate to onboard students and introduce themselves). She feels that those introductory calls set the tone with her new students—and help set them up to succeed. From their first day, she wants her students to know that she believes in them. 

“Many students, and adult students in particular, don’t have anyone supporting or encouraging them to get their education,” Henderson said. “I want them to know I’m going to be with them through it all. Students are humans first. So it’s my goal, with every student, to be present, authentic, and empathetic.”

Leveraging her counselor training to overcome challenges together

When roadblocks do arise for her students, Henderson relies on her counselor training to understand the why behind a negative attitude or statement. 

“There’s always a reason or experience behind why someone gets down on themselves or thinks they can’t overcome an obstacle,” she said. “I strive to understand where my students want to go and what their goals are. I tell them that I will help them get there. And I remind them that it’s okay to take your own path to achieve your goals.” 

Henderson added: “I tell my students that when I started as a coach, I was nervous just like them. But my team has helped me overcome the challenges I’ve faced. I share that so my students know everyone needs someone in their corner—even academic coaches. At SHCOE, support is one of our core values; whether you’re a student or a staff member, you feel it reverberate through everything we do.”