StarTalk coaching provides support during challenging times

People talking around table

A new program has started with the goal of assisting and supporting University of Oregon leaders and those on the front lines of helping with continuity, engagement and recovery efforts.

The StarTalk coaching program was spearheaded by the Division of Equity and Inclusion in partnership with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Human Resources.

The aim of the programs is to intervene in the unprecedented levels of trauma and stress that some in the UO community are experiencing in the wake of COVID-19 and the structural inequities that it highlighted, the economic downturn, the ongoing trauma associated with the latest cycle of anti-Black police violence, broader issues of racial unrest and, most recently, the Oregon wildfires.

According to Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president for equity and inclusion and herself a certified coach, “Trauma-informed group coaching will provide teams of leaders with the knowledge, intimacy and structure to understand how racism and other forms of oppression as well as stress impact body, mind and spirit of the people that we teach, support and lead.”

Group-based coaching will support faculty members, staff and students to learn self-care and leadership strategies to enhance success. Coaching “will help leadership teams and the individuals that comprise them with the resources and tools to create goals, identify strategies and improve UO leadership teams’ ability to create environments that are truly inclusive, anti-oppressive and empowering for all,” Alex-Assensoh said.

A limited number of individual, short-term, coaching opportunities are available for staff, faculty members and students. Coaching will be done by a racially diverse group of certified coaches, licensed clinical social workers and individuals who are currently engaged in coaching certification processes. Those interested in finding out more can reply via a Qualtrics survey.

Professional coaches have already volunteered their services for StarTalk pilot programs. Alex-Assensoh said the name of the coaching program was an important concept stemming from conversations with professional coach Jacqueline Levi.

“The name StarTalk comes from the idea that all of us have the potential to be ‘light’ or ‘stars,’ and that our lights shine especially during times of darkness,” Alex-Assensoh said.

Levi, an executive and relationship coach, said the program is important in helping develop interdepartmental and intradepartmental relationships and communication, particularly during challenging times.

“By bringing awareness to self, time for reflection, asking questions about dreams and possibilities, by creating a safe environment to conduct these conversations, by raising the feeling of trust and empowerment, the participants in this group reported more satisfaction levels both at work and at home,” Levi said. “They also reported a heightened level of communication within the teams they are part of, as well as an opening of communication within the different departments.”

Some participants were initially hesitant about the program, but participation quelled their skepticism.

Alex-Assensoh approached Betsy Boyd, UO associate vice president for federal affairs and co-chair of an incident management team committee, to be a participant. Boyd recalls that Assensoh noted her “quiet but effective” approach.

“Those encouraging words and the opportunity to talk with a StarTalk coach came along at the right time in my career at the UO,” Boyd said. “They powered me through a long summer and made me more effective in my work responsibilities. This was the first time in my career at the UO that anyone outside of my immediate department intentionally directed resources to me for the purpose of developing my professional effectiveness. That in itself gave me a lift and made me curious to try the coaching program.”

Kassy Fisher was initially cautious about the program.

“I had never engaged in formal coaching or counseling before so I was hesitant to try it,” said Fisher, associate vice president for campus services, chief of staff for finance and administration and currently deputy incident commander for the UO incident management team,

Fisher said having the time to focus was one of the many benefits of the program.

“Not only was my assigned coach, Anjali Leon, a great partner to me, asking thought-provoking questions and supplying me with tools and activities that prompted self-reflection,” Fisher said, “but the sheer act of taking the time, just an hour every other week or so, to pause from the bustle and pressures of daily work life to examine my goals and my strengths and how to make them better assets, were, and continue to be, of great value to me.” 

Boyd echoed that the coaching program provided critical support during a time where many are overwhelmed. She said StarTalk helped her focus on her strengths and problem-solve.

Like so many people right now, I have never been more buffeted by a combination of private sorrows and professional duties than I have since the onset of the pandemic,” she said.

“Coaching is transformative,” Levi said. “As such, people that benefit from coaching bring expansive energy and ideas to their environment. How can the impact of such expansion not be a priority in an institution of higher education?”

By tova stabin, University Communications