Coaches Help Staff and Students ‘Get Off the Hamster Wheel’

3/8/23 Pratt School of Engineering

Three Duke Engineering staffers earned certifications to provide health and well-being coaching

Coaches Help Staff and Students ‘Get Off the Hamster Wheel’

Health and Well-being Coaching is a new service available to staff and students in the Pratt Community. This mode of coaching helps people think about and articulate their vision for optimal health and create goals that guide them toward their desired state.

Three Duke Engineering staff members—Bridget Fletcher, Danielle Giles and Bridget Kerwin—are certified through Duke Integrative Medicine as health and well-being coaches. Fletcher offers to coach staff, and Kerwin offers coaching to students. Giles serves PhD students in BME.

The three answered questions about the service, why it’s important, and how they expect it to benefit the community:

Why offer health and well-being coaching as a service?  

Bridget FletcherFletcher: A lot of what I have done over my 15 years at Pratt has been student-focused support, particularly regarding acclimation for Chinese students.

As I transitioned professionally from someone supporting studentsto supporting the people who were supporting the students, I began thinking more about these kinds of roles and how challenging they are.  

Now, as the managing director of graduate student programs and services, I oversee a team of 24 people, and I find myself thinking a lot about how best to create a work environment that really taps into their pool of expertise to further the important work they’re doing but also allows them room to take care of themselves.

Health and well-being coaching seemed like a great way to do that.

Bridget KerwinKerwin: I think health and well-being coaching compliments the many support resources that are available to students here at Duke. I meet with a lot of students who are struggling to make progress toward their goals; they feel really stuck.

That is not always something to turn to CAPS for—if students need counseling or the help of an academic advisor, we can absolutely direct them toward those services.

The coaching process is different; it allows students the space to explore their own vision and then develop strategies to move toward a desired outcome

Please share something you learned as you progressed through the year-long certification process.

Danielle GilesGiles: I realized the power of active listening and asking open-ended questions.

Previously, I had aimed to help students solve their problems and suggest ideas for solutions. The training emphasizes that students are the experts in their own lives.

By asking the right questions, I can pull the thread as an idea develops into a goal they are excited about. Once the goal is established, then I can help them to break it down into bite-sized, attainable steps.

After I completed the Duke certification, I decided to sit for the National Board Certification, which requires 50 coaching sessions. While conducting sessions and studying for the exam, I was able to sharpen my skills and deepen my understanding of what our Bridget Fletcherstudents are looking to get out of coaching sessions.

Listening with an open mind and providing non-judgmental support are key.

Fletcher: For me, in trying to be helpful and encouraging, I was doing a lot of cheerleading—“Oh, that’s awesome! Good plan!” And that’s not what you’re supposed to do.

I got a lot of feedback on how to be supportive without ascribing a value judgment. That was something I needed to learn about.

What kinds of challenges do people bring to the sessions?  

Bridget KerwinKerwin: Sometimes it’s very defined. Other times it is not. Sometimes people just have a feeling that something is “off.” They don’t feel how they want to feel.

In these cases, we can do a personal health inventory, which helps them determine what area they might want to focus on. Maybe they think they’re having time management problems, but then they discover they’re feeling stressed because they’ve lost their support network.

It can be a really powerful process leading to those discoveries.

Bridget FletcherFletcher: Sometimes it’s very specific things, like ‘I want to change the way Im eating’ or ‘I know I’m really stressed out by my super messy closet because it causes me to struggle in the morning trying to figure out what to wear.

Creating a SMART goalSpecific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely—that they can work toward helps them get off the hamster wheel ostops them from feeling like theyre on autopilot.

They can step into their life and consciously choose to do things that make them feel better and healthier.

What does a successful session look like?  

Danielle GilesGiles: In a productive session, I will guide a student to pinpoint their focus so we can dig into the changes they want to make.

Sometimes a student may come in overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, particularly if they’re fixating on a long-term goal that seems impossibly far away. My role is to support them in identifying exactly what they want to discuss and then exploring their feelings and ideas within this focus area. As the session progresses, they’re able to home in on a specific goal and then create an action step they’re eager to tackle.

By the time we’re wrapping up, physical cues such as relaxed shoulders and a smile signal to me that the student is empowered with a positive outlook.

Bridget KerwinKerwin: When a student says they have felt heard and they walk away with a realistic action plan.

As coaches, we have an opportunity to guide individuals through a very personal process. For someone to be heard in a nonjudgmental way is sometimes what has been missing, as is that important action plan! Additionally, if we successfully manage our role, they can use the very same process during any stage of their life when they are facing an obstacle or working toward a goal.

This is not only helpful now, but through the many changes they will face as their life continues beyond Duke.

If someone is interested in coaching, either in a microsession or in a small group, how can they learn more?