University of Nebraska-Lincoln Academic Success Coach Joe Atil uses his own background, traditions and pop-culture loves to get Huskers talking about their own interests — and what they want to achieve.
When students sit down for a meeting with Atil, it’s likely they’ll talk about food or comic books before the conversation shifts to anything related to school. His office in the Center for Academic Success and Transition is covered with comic book posters and photos of Filipino cuisine — not to mention the buffet of Asian candies on his desk.
All of these items help break the ice with students and get them talking about themselves. It’s also meant to encourage them to value their own backgrounds.
“I use the posters of Filipino cuisine in my office to ask students, ‘What’s on your plate? What’s home-cooked food for you?’” he said. “It’s a way for me to engage students to feel welcomed and know that their background, community and memories of home are important.”
As an academic success coach, Atil helps new Huskers settle into life at NU and talks through some of the challenges being a student can present. He gives emphasis to students who, like himself, are first-generation and come from diverse backgrounds.
“First-generation students are trailblazers in their family and might not have the same support as others,” Atil said. “As a coach, I’m here to help those first-year Huskers who maybe haven’t had a family member go to college. I show them what’s possible in our community and give them strategies and tools to be successful.”
Born in the Philippines and raised in Southern California, Atil stresses that being a Husker can look a lot of different ways.
“Being a Husker is more than wearing red; everyone brings in a rich background and culture and adds it to the experience,” he said. “It’s not about trying to become like everyone else. It’s about what’s unique to you that you bring to UNL.”
Atil likes to use himself as an example to show everyone has a unique path. He took a 15-year break from college before going back to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“When students say they’re afraid of failing, I always tell them to take it from me: the struggle isn’t the end. There’s always a way to make it through,” Atil said.