My First Year: Academic Coach Introduction

by · August 30, 2017

Hello and welcome to the My First Year blog series! My name is Brianne Thompson, and I am one of the Academic Coaches in the Office of Student Success. Before I explain the purpose of this blog, let me first tell you a little bit about myself and how I wound up at Mount Saint Mary College.

I am a native of the Hudson Valley and grew up in Orange County. Throughout my childhood and teen years, music was my life. I started piano lessons in the second grade and voice lessons shortly after that. I was the stereotypical “music geek” in high school, participating in any musical ensemble that was offered, All-County and All-State choruses, starring in multiple musical productions, and going to hang out in the music room during any free period I had. There was no doubt in my mind at that point that my career in the future would be centered on music. Therefore, I applied and was accepted to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey – a very prestigious, music-only college.

Prior to going to college, I was advised by multiple people – parents, teachers, friends –  that I should choose a “safe” major once at college, as the music industry was an exceedingly difficult field in which to start a career. I chose to major in Music Education, with the idea that since I loved music so much, it should be easy for me to teach music to others. I studied Music Ed for about two years and guess what – I HATED it!!! If I thought I had lived and breathed music in high school, that was nothing compared to the rigorous and constant discipline that was required at Westminster. During those first two years, I realized that my attitude towards music had changed from loving it to instead viewing it more like I viewed physics in high school – a science that had formulas and equations in which I had little interest in figuring out. (As long as gravity kept me firmly on the ground, I didn’t care to know why that was the case.) Similarly, as long as I could make beautiful music, I didn’t care to know why certain chord progressions were better than others and had no interest in teaching that to others!

The realization that I didn’t want to pursue music as my career hit me like a ton of bricks and was really unnerving as I had never given any consideration to doing anything else besides music. Because my parents had already spent some SERIOUS money for me to complete two years at this music school and since I really had no idea what I wanted my next option to be, I decided to stick it out at Westminster and switched my major to a Bachelor of Arts in Music, which was a very general degree program that allowed me to take a lot more electives in various fields of study. I took a psychology course and loved it, which led me to load up on as many psych classes as I could in my remaining semesters in college.

Brianne Thompson at the recent Knight Summer Leadership Institute

After graduating with a degree that was not very beneficial to job-hunting, I started working at a preschool/after-care program. I found that I genuinely enjoyed working with kids, particularly the older kids. While I knew I didn’t want to teach music in my career, I could see myself continuing somewhere within the education field.

Shortly after graduating college, my then-boyfriend and I decided to get married and move back up to the Hudson Valley. I started working at a local high school in the Guidance office. Being able to observe the impact the guidance counselors had on many students and having the opportunity to interact with the students myself, I finally realized where I wanted my career to go. I quickly started my master’s degree program in School Counseling at Long Island University and felt so passionate about the direction my career was heading! I was ready to find a position in which I could assist students in being successful.

I graduated in 2012, started eagerly looking for jobs, and quickly realized that I had attained my degree at the exact same moment that New York State public education was seriously downsizing positions due to budget constraints. There weren’t any jobs to be found and I wasn’t in the position to relocate. My frustrations and the irony of the situation threatened to get the best of me – I finally figured out what I wanted to do only to realize that I couldn’t do it. I continued my job at the high school, praying that I was simply biding my time until something opened up; however, every time it seemed like there was a door of opportunity, that door quickly shut in my face.

I continued in this vein until one day, a good friend from LIU called me and told me about a Leadership Development Coach position at good ol’ MSMC. I researched more about the position and decided to apply. Long story short, I was hired! I arrived at the college in October 2015 and quickly realized I had found my niche. I loved being able to help students develop interpersonal and leadership skills that would benefit them both at the Mount and in their future.

However, through my work, I realized that the transition from high school to college can be very difficult and challenging for some. I would see students who had the utmost potential to succeed in college struggling because they couldn’t adjust to the academic expectations, shifting realities, social scene, or independence of their new community. And who could blame them? Homesickness, academic difficulties, switching majors, developing self-awareness, advocating for yourself, roommate disputes, and relationship confrontations are only some of the tough challenges that impact many freshman.  Having been through some of those challenges myself and having come out stronger for them, I wanted to be able do more in assisting students in navigating their own college struggles.

This desire led me to switch offices at the Mount to start working as an Academic Coach in the Office of Student Success, where I can work with students on a holistic level to ease their transition into college. Freshman year can be very overwhelming, and if you are feeling that way, I want you to know you’re not alone no matter how much you think you are! This is the very reason this blog series was created – so fellow students could help each other by sharing the challenges and successes that they endured during their freshman year.

Each story in this series is meant to inspire and empower first-year students, while being realistic about the hurdles students may face during their adjustment to college. My story alone shows that there are high points and pitfalls throughout your college career, but it is your perseverance through the pitfalls that will lead to your ultimate success. I invite you to share your story and how you have persevered through your various challenges!

If you are interested in submitting a post for this blog, please contact me at or stop into my office in Aquinas Hall, Room 100-A2.