August 19, 2009

University unveils Saluki First Year initiative

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale is now providing even more resources to help first-year students connect to the campus community, establish academic and social networks, grow academically, create lasting friendships and strengthen their professional and personal skills.

The Saluki First Year initiative is designed to make sure students reach their full potential and participate more actively in their first year at the University.

Saluki First Year provides answers to all kinds of questions. What do I do if my roommate is driving me crazy? Where can I go for tutoring? Where do I go to (you fill in the blank)?

“If they can’t figure out what to do or where to go, come here,” said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, director of University Housing and co-chair of Saluki First Year along with Mark Amos, associate professor of English.

“We can get them not only to an office, but to the right person in that office, the one who can address their needs or problems,” Amos said.

Providing referrals and answers is part of what Saluki First Year does. But, that’s far from all. In actuality, it is a comprehensive, campus-wide program involving almost every academic unit and every part of campus.

“The focus is on helping students be successful. A student has to be involved in this process for it to really work. This is partnership involving the students and every component of campus,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “This is an umbrella program. The Saluki First Year is the umbrella that helps coordinate everything for first year students.

“A year long self-study preceded creation of this program. Understand, all students have issues for various reasons at various times,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “This is a holistic response.”

Noting that the program “represents a change in University culture and mindset,” Amos added, “Data show that all students can benefit from a program like this.”

Helping students make a successful transition from high school into college and become acclimated is the first goal of Saluki First Year. That doesn’t mean the program takes away all insecurities though, Amos said.

“We want to help them become acclimated to the point that they can even be secure with their insecurities,” Amos said. “Everyone has insecurities -- whether a college student or not. Ninety percent of college is fantastic. Ten percent may not be. But, Saluki First Year will help our students realize those insecurities are expected, and okay, and that students can be successful despite them.”

Kicking off the new academic year right, all Saluki freshmen get a free copy of Harlan Cohen’s insightful bestseller, “The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College.” The book comes with a bookmark giving information about the Saluki First Year program.

The University is making a significant commitment to Saluki First Year. Chancellor Samuel Goldman has pledged $400,000 in funding annually for the next three years. Already more than a year of study and research, working in conjunction with the Foundations of Excellence, has gone into the program. The Foundations of Excellence is a non-profit research, policy and advocacy center led by founder John Gardner. Ninety representatives from across the SIUC campus participated in the self-study, research and development of the individualized SIUC plan.

Faner Hall is headquarters for the program this year, but plans call for it to move to the sixth floor of the newly renovated Morris Library for the 2010-2011 school year. Fully implementing the program is actually a five-year plan. The target this year is first-time freshmen. Next year, the expanded focus will include first-year SIUC transfer students too. Subsequent years will involve looking at different sub-sets of first-year students at SIUC and developing programs and services that best meet their unique needs, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

For this inaugural year, the program expands supplemental instruction and tutoring options, enhances an early success system to identify students needing help and also works with the new Saluki Cares program. Likely by year two, all new students will take a special student success course to help them become acclimated to the University. Future plans also include the addition of more expansive programming and events, increased centralization of services and much more.

The Saluki First Year features a lecture series too, offering humor, information and enlightening speakers. Additional events and exact times and locations are forthcoming, but you can mark the dates now for the following presentations:

• Sept. 22: Eric Weiner, National Public Radio correspondent and author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.” The University Honors Program is co-sponsor.

• Oct. 13: Harlan Cohen, columnist and author of “The Naked Roommate.”

• Nov. 17: Jon Bul Dau, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” The award-winning documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” is the story of the journey Dau and other Sudanese made to escape certain torture and death.

• Feb. 10, 2010: Michael Ruse, scientist and author of “Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?” The University Honors Program is co-sponsoring.

• April 6, 2010: Tim Wise, anti-racist and activist and the author of “Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama.” The Student Development Program’s Social Justice Leadership Institute is co-sponsor.

The top priority of Saluki First Year is to help students create a wonderful, successful first year for themselves at SIUC, according to Payne-Kirchmeier and Amos. But, the program directors are also confident that a byproduct will be a higher retention rate, since happy, successful students will be more likely to complete their education at the University.

To find out more about First Year Experience at SIUC call 618/453-1828, check out the Web site at or stop by the office. It’s in Faner Hall, Room 3341. To find it, simply go in Door 7 at Faner, take the elevator to the third floor, turn right and go most of the way down the hall until you see Room 3341 on your right. Look for First Year Experience on Facebook, Twitter and Blackboard too.