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With the support of his FIU Online Student Success Coach, Jess Barnett soared past the finish line.

At the 2017 FIU commencement ceremony, Jess Barnett met Kimberly Noy for the first time, in person, outside the Ocean Bank Convocation Center. Kimberly was an FIU Online Student Success Coach. “You have no idea how much your help meant to me,” he told her. Jess, who moments earlier walked across the stage to receive his degree in communications, was beaming, surprised that Kimberly would take the time out of her weekend to see him. “Without your encouragement to work hard and hang in there,” he told her, “I don’t think I would have graduated.”

Years before, Jess struggled to finish college. Like many students today, the traditional model of schooling could not accommodate the realities of his life. At first, Jess attended a community college in Broward. But because of a lack of guidance and a loss of grants, he soon needed to take a few years off.

After some time, he thought to give it another go elsewhere. This time, he trekked further north to a state college in Palm Beach County. There he encountered even more financial and bureaucratic obstacles, leaving him feeling even more dejected about school. All the while, he was working full time to get ahead in his banking career.

Jess soon returned to Broward. But then he ran into the same problems as before. “I was just so lost. With the exception of one advisor, there was just nobody around to advocate for you.” After much struggling and what felt like a lifetime, Jess earned his associate’s degree in 2014.

Driven to finish what he had started, Jess chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He could not help but worry he’d get stuck again. “How will I graduate in good time?” he asked himself. So, he thought about exploring an online option. That’s when he began courses at FIU Online.

FIU Online Success Coaches make the difference

The first major difference Jess noticed at FIU Online was the support he got from Student Success Coaches, a team that helps online students adjust to challenges related to academics and work-life balance. “Unlike other schools, FIU Online was very interactive. I was supported every step of way.”

In the midst of his busy studies, Jess kept in touch with his coach, Kimberly Noy. “Every time I called, she answered.”

With Kimberly’s help, Jess was committed to doing things differently. First, he set a goal: graduate by the age of 32. Then he took on the financial risk of becoming a full-time student. This time he’d put in his all. “I would prepare all day before major meeting times online. And on Saturdays, I stayed home catching up with my readings.”

He reminded himself, “If I don’t remain consistent, I’ll lose focus on the end game: graduation.” But Jess is the first to tell you that he didn’t muster all the focused drive by himself.

Jess has boundless gratitude for Kimberly’s support. He loves telling others how she tailored her guidance to his goals and made sure he was never so overloaded with classes that he would risk a timely graduation. “She was always happy and positive. It was clear how much she enjoyed her career helping students succeed.”

Jess learned three major lessons during his struggle with schooling. “I learned about persistence, perseverance, and commitment.” But Jess also learned that you don’t have to be lost or alone while pursuing your academic goals. At FIU Online, support is readily available.

“In the end,” he says, “I owe my graduation to my success coach, Kimberly Noy.”