Life Coaching in Life Sciences

Kim Allen says her path to become a life-coaching administrator in NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was a little “zig-zaggy.”

And there’s really no better word to describe someone who grew up in rural Missouri in a family that saw low value in postsecondary education, who received undergraduate, master’s and PhD degrees from a total of five colleges and universities, and who spent time as a nanny and intern at “Saturday Night Live” in New York City, a television and theater student on both coasts and an extension agent in Missouri.

And that doesn’t even consider her time as a working parent for two biological and four bonus children.

“In the moment, it didn’t feel like a challenge — it felt like an adventure,” says Allen, who received her undergraduate degree from Cottey College in Missouri, undergraduate and graduate degrees from New York University, graduate degrees from Missouri State and Adler universities and her Ph.D. from Capella University. “In hindsight, I had some missteps. I spent far too much money on my education.

“I had a lot of insecurity around finances.”

That did not fit well with her “that sounds interesting, let me try that” career path and cross-country professional stops with her husband.

“I had such limited exposure to higher education,” she says. “I had to feel my way through it. I have no regrets, but I would probably take a very different trajectory if I knew then what I know now.

“In the end, though, I found a path that I loved.”

The common thread that tied everything together was a focus on youth and parent counseling that was born from her lack of availability to affordable education and her lack of understanding of the academic process.

Still, she found her way to NC State in 2009 as a professor of agriculture and human sciences, developing programs teaching family life coaching and student success courses and directing programs related to academic success. In February, Allen was named the interim associate dean of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While her passion has always been creating healthy relationships and reaching underserved audiences, Allen finds that she is more successful crossing the lines between life-coaching and therapy. Coaching has been her primary research and teaching area.

“Parent education and therapy are about ‘I’m the expert, let me tell you what to do,’” she says. “Therapy can really help heal past trauma.

“Coaching, however, partners with families. Coaching honors the expertise the parents already have. If you’re a parent, you know your kids better than anyone else. Therapy disenfranchises your knowledge and your expertise as a parent.”

How, then, does that fit into the tenets of the world-class agricultural programs in CALS?

Allen hopes that her background in seeing human potential through her work with youth and families will help identify new and non-traditional students who might be interested one or more of the college’s 12 departments.

“My background is in human development,” she says. “Right now, I’m having a blast learning even more about how agriculture develops its people and its families, as I did when I was an extension agent. It is not a stretch at all to see how each of our departments develop and impact human lives.”

She does that through a focus on family life, coaching parents, students and couples and reaching underserved audiences.

“Every human has the potential to be great, but we all have different strengths. Not everyone is great in research. Not all are great in academics. Everyone, however, has a passion that can be nurtured and shared.

“I think we can bust open the traditional methods of recruiting and training.”

And maybe straighten out some of the zig-zaggy paths students follow during their educational careers.

This post was originally published in NC State News.