Telma Frumholtz was born in France, celebrated her quinceañera in Mexico, and got her high school diploma in Minnesota. So the 26-year-old had no qualms about packing up her car and heading to Colorado Springs, sight unseen.
“The week before Thanksgiving , I came out and spent one day visiting apartments and meeting my team, signed a lease, drove [to Minnesota], spent Thanksgiving with my family, and then moved out the following week,” Frumholtz said.
The child of a French father and Spanish mother, Frumholtz initially planned on a career in child psychology. However, working with international students in her college’s study abroad office convinced her that higher education was where she belonged. Frumholtz’s job as a student success coach at Colorado Technical University is the best of both those worlds.
“There is a little bit of counseling, I always say, because I have a ‘My-door-is-always-open’ [policy] with my students,” Frumholtz said.
Frumholtz holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a master’s degree in human resources management and services, along with an executive coaching certificate from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. She talked with the Business Journal about her multicultural background, her passion for exploring new horizons, and why more universities should employ student success coaches.
How did you end up with a career in higher education?
I took an executive coaching class within the master’s [program] and I really, really liked that. So I actually continued on with my education after the master’s. I went to school forever and I still want to go back. I continued at the same school with my executive coaching certification. … While I was completing that and getting my master’s, I actually became a teacher for a little while. … I taught fourth and fifth grade at a Spanish immersion school — which was awesome. I really, really liked that, and I totally could have stayed a teacher forever, but I knew if I stayed in the teaching realm there was only so far I could go — and there were so many more things I wanted to do.
… So at the end of the school year, they asked me if I was renewing my contract, and I said no. I went off to Europe to spend some time with my family and when I came back, I started applying to jobs in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. I wanted to be out of the Midwest. I’d been there for 10 years and I’d never spent that long in one area, and I was just ready for something new. … I’d been [to Colorado] once and I really liked the mountains; I liked doing outdoorsy things.
… We did the interview [at CTU], I got accepted, so within three weeks I said yes, packed up my things, drove down here, moved in and started my new job.
Is there anything you haven’t done?
There’s a few things, yes — I haven’t joined the Army. Most people around here are military, so that’s one connection I don’t have.
Talk about your role at CTU.
I am what’s called a student success coach. … Most universities … will have academic advisers, so that’s what I relate it to most closely in other institutions. The biggest difference is that it’s not just, ‘Let’s get you registered for classes.’ We have a lot of students who are what you call nontraditional, so … a lot of our students are working with getting back into school. … It’s a very different life and so it’s a big adjustment for a lot of students. We as a team are here to support them through those adjustments and whatever difficulties they come up with.
… Basically it’s just whatever you need to succeed, whether it’s motivation — I have a couple of students who, every few weeks, I’ll give them a call: ‘Hey, how are you doing? How are your assignments?’ I have chocolate if they’re stressed out.
I really enjoy my role here. I think more schools should have something along this line. … I think it’s important to have that central success hub. Then you can go to career services for jobs, and you can talk to admissions for doing a new program, or you can talk to your instructors … but you always have that student success place that you can come to first if you don’t know where to go, or if you’re just really overwhelmed and you need a moment to talk to someone.
What do you think of Colorado Springs?
I really, really like it. … When I first moved out here I was very nervous, because I’d never really heard of Colorado Springs. I’d been to Denver and Glenwood Springs. When I came out here, the feedback people were giving me was, ‘Oh, you’re going to get bored in Colorado Springs, there’s nothing to do.’ I completely disagree with that.
… There are all of the different military bases and the [Air Force] Academy, which is in and of itself a new diversity field that I’ve never really dealt with, because in Minnesota I had no veteran or military association. So being able to work with veterans, with active-duty military, getting to know all the different branches … has been really, really interesting.
There was a time in my life that I considered working with [post-traumatic stress disorder research]. I still really like that field and am super passionate. … My only concern is I would get really invested because that was one of my issues with teaching — I would take my work home if I knew a student was struggling at home and I knew their parents weren’t going to help them. It would affect me when I went home, and that was another reason I just had to take a break from that. Here, I don’t have access to my email or my system at home, which I thought at first was going to be a really big issue for me, but it’s actually helped me compartmentalize a little bit. When I’m at work I can worry about my students and stress out, but when I’m at home, there’s literally nothing I can do. So I leave this office and it stays here and my students know that. … It sets a good, healthy foundation for a work/life balance, which is really important.
How has your teaching experience come into play as a student success coach?
Adults are just literally big kids. … Everyone has their vulnerabilities, everyone has things they’re unsure about or don’t want to ask for help about. Kids are very open about that, always. … As you get older, you tend to start hiding that side of you. … A lot of people will prefer to fail a class on their own than succeed with someone else’s help. I am really trying to turn that around. One of the biggest pieces I try to include when I talk at orientation is really drilling hard that we are here to help. … If you are going through something and need to figure it out, we are sounding boards for you. We have access to so many resources. If it’s something that’s over our head, we can tell you exactly where to go and where to get that help, so that your education — which is really important — isn’t affected.
Also, I’ve always been a very energetic, happy person. I think that’s helped me a lot in this role because a lot of times students will come to you very upset. I think this is where teaching and my coaching certificate come into play. You can come into my office and vent if you need to, but I’m going to start off by asking you, ‘How long do you need to vent?’ and then we’re going to move on to a solution. Venting is very important. I think it’s really helpful to get it out of your system … but you can’t just stay in that venting place.
Has being multilingual helped further your career opportunities?
I don’t think I would have become a teacher if it wasn’t for my languages. … Being able to speak a language and be a resource is super, super helpful, because you’re making a difference in these kids’ lives. Being able to see these kids, by fourth grade, speak fluently in English and Spanish is, to me, amazing. It gives me goosebumps to see that happen and I love being able to be a part of it.
Even outside of the education world … it exposes you to a new culture. … Especially in a country that’s so diverse … it’s a really good opportunity for you to connect to your roots, connect with other people, just be able to see more even without leaving.
What advice would you give to other young professionals?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Moving out here, everyone was like, ‘That’s a really big step. Are you sure you want to do that?’ … Well, first of all, my parents moved across an ocean. If they can do that and be successful, I can move to a different state. … In the world that we currently are in, it’s really important to be able to explore new horizons and not be afraid. … Dreams are for achieving, not just to dream. You want to go after what you want and find something that makes you happy, and do it.