August 19, 2009

Saluki Cares brings services together for students

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Going to college. It’s an exciting time of life.

As wonderful as it is, university life isn’t always problem-free though. But at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a new initiative offers more proof that Salukis care about one another.

Saluki Cares is a campus-wide program offering support and care for students no matter what might trouble them. This new program is an early alert initiative in which faculty, staff, parents, other students, or even a student experiencing difficulties will submit a confidential referral. In turn, someone from the Saluki Cares team will connect them with whatever help they might need.

University students can experience a variety of difficult problems, including extended illnesses, financial issues, deaths of friends or family, adjustment issues and even homesickness. The Saluki Cares program offers a comprehensive network to make sure students know they’re cared about and the services that are available to help them cope with whatever issue may be on their plate.

The program involves Academic Support, Academic Affairs, Enrollment Management, Student Affairs, Student Development, New Student Programs and a variety of other campus units and personnel. Help has always been available, but now there is a University-wide system to coordinate student care, intervention and referral.

“We have always cared about our students, but we wanted to create a culture of care for students. We want them to know they are connected and that we can help with whatever is bothering them. The point is not to replace existing services but to bring them together and make students aware of them. We are an institution that cares. We want our students to know that,” said Katherine L. Sermersheim, director of Student Development.

Peter Gitau, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, created the Saluki Cares initiative and tapped Sermersheim to chair it.

“If your apartment burns, we will make sure you have a place to stay and the things you need. If you fall ill and can’t go to classes for an extended time, we will help you notify your professors and work with you so you can stay in school. If you lose a parent, we’re going to be there for you. Even if it’s something like a bad break-up with a girlfriend or boyfriend or homesickness that’s bothering you, we can connect you with support. We want to make sure that none of our students ‘falls through the cracks.’ We want to let our students know they’re an important part of the University community and that they are an important part of the University family, because that’s what we are -- a family,” Sermersheim said.

Maybe you’re lonely or homesick? Maybe you have a question and don’t know whom to ask. Or, perhaps you’re stressed out about your classes and keeping up. Saluki Cares can help.

Saluki Cares operates quite simply. Anyone on campus or parents can submit a confidential referral or concern to the Saluki Cares team. Just e-mail or call 618/453-5714 or visit the Web site at and click on the “Notify Saluki Cares of a Concern” link.

The types of help and intervention available are as diverse as the problems themselves. Perhaps Saluki Cares will simply ask a resident assistant to stop by and talk to someone on their floor, making sure they are okay and know someone is there for them. It may be a referral to the Student Health Center for counseling. It may be notifying professors the student will be missing classes for a family funeral.

“Of what we do, 99 percent will be referring. We will make sure we are in touch and that we connect students with the appropriate resources. They’ll know they’re in an environment where someone cares,” Sermersheim said. Some help may be long-term. On other occasions, it may only be a single contact, depending upon need, Sermersheim said.

“These crises don’t live forever. They may just need a one-minute intervention or they may need continuing help. But they will know someone cares,” she added. She also noted that they will offer, but not force services.

While the focus of Saluki Cares is the students and assuring their University experience is as positive as it can possibly be, Gitau said he believes the program will have a positive impact on student retention as well. He said in the past, students simply jotted down a reason on a form when they withdrew from SIUC and at times little attention was paid.

“What we are saying with this program is, let’s deal with the situation. This is a great opportunity to make interventions and see if we can help students look at their options, find solutions, and stay in school,” Gitau said, noting that his office will oversee the program and address any questions or concerns that arise that aren’t directly handled by Saluki Cares.

“I think this initiative is going to significantly help our student retention. Students will know we care and that there are probably answers for them,” Gitau said. “If they do leave, they and we will know we’ve done all we can do for them. And, they’ll know they are welcome back in the future.”

Gitau said Saluki Cares is not a judicial referral. It’s a way to get information and help to those who might need it. Sermersheim also noted that people should call 911 for true emergencies.