Luther’s Catalyze program works to ensure student success

The Luther Catalyze Program is hard at work to set students up for success in their college career. The program offers tutoring, near-peer counseling, coaching, and other resources for eligible students. Catalyze came to Luther in 2018 as part of an effort by College Possible to bring the program to smaller schools around the country.


College Possible is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making college admission and success possible for low-income or first generation students. Catalyze began as a high school centered program designed to help students get into colleges, before transitioning to help students succeed in college. The program was brought to Luther by Former Vice President for Equity, Inclusion, and Student Success Lisa Scott, who integrated Catalyze into the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success. Assistant Director of the Center for Intercultural Engagement Joshua Ratel-Khan emphasizes the importance of student contribution in the program, saying that the organization’s primary focus is the health, happiness and success of the students they see. 


 “I want the program to be student-centered and to have students shape what they want from their coaches and the program,” Ratel-Khan said. “While we continue to have monthly meetings and support students through academic alerts, [we] also love to shape programming around what students are wanting – whether it be social gatherings or professional development.”


 Catalyze Coaches Levi Bird (‘21) and Cleo Garza (‘21) were brought on the team after their graduation last year. Catalyze coaches are always recent college graduates, and help students with everything from financial aid advice to assisting in the search for tutors. Additionally, they act as someone to talk to about classes or social lives on campus, and offer a listening ear as students navigate the transition to college. Students who are accepted to the program are matched with a Catalyze Coach who helps them navigate any aspect of their college experience. Sometimes a coach can help connect students to campus resources through College Possible, like tutors or other academic help.


“Our society pushes so much for high school graduates to go to college, but then offers little to no support in that transition,” Garza said. “Being able to be there and be that bridge to welcome people to college has been so eye-opening. It’s cliche but the saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ is so true with our higher educational system.”


Bird’s biggest inspiration in his work is to improve the lives and mindsets of his students. Bird describes a major part of his job as supporting and being there for students who might be struggling.


“Trying to navigate [college] can be really stressful, but you’re not alone in it,” Catalyze Coach Bird said. “I’m going to be here with you to support you through it and we’re going to come out on the other side. It might not be perfect and it might not be the way you wanted it to go, but we’re going to make it through together.” 


Bird and Ratel-Khan both emphasize how important their students are to them, and how inspiring their work is. Each student brings a new challenge and new goals for the coaches and for the Catalyze program itself. According to Ratel-Khan, it is the students that keep the program running. 


“Seeing the relationships that Catalyze Coaches build with their students is always inspiring to me,” Ratel-Khan said. “Knowing that students turn to their coaches in times of need, and that they are able to be an important resource for them, confirms my belief that the Catalyze Program is making a difference to students’ lives on campus. Coaches providing support to help students graduate will make a lifetime difference to those students as they go on to find employment, earn increased wages, and support their families.” 


The resources provided by the Catalyze program are particularly aimed toward Pell Grant eligible and first generation students. Students who are interested in the program can apply on the Catalyze at Luther webpage: