The student-centered university

Students playing in boats
Incoming new students play a real-life game of Battleship during Dawg Days last week.  The four-day, three-night retreat for new SIU freshmen and transfer students is filled with fun team activities led by returning SIU students.

There’s nothing like hearing from happy students and families as the school year begins. Last week’s move-in earned positive reviews, as usual, and welcome events such as “Light up the Lake” and the convocation for new students were full of positive energy.

As a campus and community, we have started the year by communicating strong and positive messages to students: We’re glad you’re here. You are important and welcome. Let us know how we can help.

These welcoming messages contribute to student success and retention. Let us all remember to thoughtfully and intentionally communicate these messages as the academic year progresses, even as we become focused on the demands of our work within or outside of the classroom.

Students are the reason each one of us is here. It is essential that we keep them firmly in our focus and remain student-centered throughout the year.

What does it mean to be student-centered?

I’ll offer my ideas and welcome yours. (Please note that I know that many of you already do these things every day.)

I think it means that we listen and respond, whether the question is about how to improve a grade or how to get a parking decal.

It means that we help students expand their knowledge by facilitating their participation in research, creative activity, internships, study abroad, community service opportunities and much more.

It means that we welcome their feedback, whether it comes to us in person, by email or through a course evaluation.

It means that we support them with services that address individual needs and concerns, whether they are homesick, struggling academically or seeking career advice.

It means that we engage them in campus life, whether they live in a residence hall or off campus, by encouraging them to participate in student organizations, attend a concert or cheer on the football team.

It means that we celebrate their personal and academic successes and help them learn from their failures.

It means that we tell them throughout the year that we are glad they are here.

What else?

I could go on, but I’m hoping I’ve sparked your own ideas about what it means to be a student-centered university, what we can do to deliver on the promise, and how you can adopt or build on student-centered practices in your own role. Please send your ideas and feedback so we can continue this important conversation related to retention and student success.

Momentum

As we begin a new academic year, it’s refreshing to look at the positive signs that our revitalization has traction. Here are just a few:

  • Our alumni and friends contributed more than $25 million last year, a 25 percent increase in giving over the previous year; this is a sign of confidence in the university’s future.
  • Our incoming new freshman class is strong based on test scores and high school grade point averages. We’ll have more detail when we have official enrollment data in a couple of weeks.
  • Participation in our July open house for students considering enrollment in fall 2019 increased by 17 percent over last year; this follows the year-to-year growth we saw in our spring open house numbers.
  • Proposals on new schools are moving forward through the review process, thanks to the hard work and engagement of our faculty.
  • We have expanded the REACH program with private support, providing more opportunities to engage students in research and creative activities, a key part of our mission.
  • The provost’s office has committed to the strategic hiring of about 25 new faculty members after several years of cutting faculty positions due to budget constraints.
  • We have renovated the pavilion thanks to a donor and added a bicycle lane through campus – just a few of many initiatives reinforcing our reputation for being a green university with a beautiful campus.
  • The Diversity Council has developed a plan, to be rolled out shortly, to support our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence.
  • We have streamlined the application and admissions process and revamped recruitment strategies and materials to benefit future enrollment.

This is just a small sampling of what we’re doing, with much more in the works.

More to come

Our revitalization is a long-term effort. We know it won’t happen overnight, but it WILL happen with continued diligence.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that will lead to additional progress – from additional recruitment strategies to completely revamped marketing materials to new student engagement initiatives, including e-sports and a makerspace designated for the Student Center.

People across campus are working hard, and people off campus are cheering us on and lending support. There will be times when we may get discouraged, but positive signals like those mentioned here, as well as those to come, should reinvigorate us and keep us focused.

Let’s look forward with optimism. Let’s keep going.

Plan now for great fall events

Part of our mission to nurture student success involves creating a vibrant campus life for our students. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to look ahead to two really great fall events that help connect Salukis to their campus and encourage school spirit— Family Weekend and Homecoming.

While you might think it’s a bit early to be talking about events for late September and October, people are already making their travel plans. I encourage anyone from out of town to book their reservations early — hotels and other accommodations consistently sell out every year during these events.

Family Weekend, Sept. 28-30

Family Weekend is an annual event that allows current students to show their families all the wonderful things Southern Illinois has to offer. While planning is still in the works for this fun-filled weekend, there are two major events already scheduled:

On Sept. 29, the Saluki football team will take on the Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent and 2017 NCAA Football Championship subdivision playoff qualifier University of South Dakota Coyotes.

The 2018 Saluki Comic Con will also take place over the weekend. There is already an amazing lineup of presentations and speakers, including Samantha Newark, the voice of Jem and Jerica from the classic Jem and the Holograms cartoon, and Trevor Von Eeden, the co-creator of the first original black superhero to have his own title.

Homecoming Week, Oct. 14-20

Later in the semester, SIU will host Indiana State University for its annual Homecoming game on Oct. 20. The week leading up to the game will be full of fun activities, including a parade, tailgating and more.

This year, Jason Seaman, a four-year Saluki letterman and elementary education graduate and heroic teacher who received praise for his actions during a school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana, will return to SIU to serve as grand marshal.

I’m already updating my collection of Saluki gear so I can show my pride in this great institution and have a little fun with the Dawg Pound. I hope to see you there.

What’s with all the mission statements?

Visitors to campus — and those of us who are here every day — may notice framed versions of the mission statement popping up inside entrances to our academic and office buildings.

These serve as a friendly reminder of our core values, our purpose — of what we are here to do. The mission statement speaks to our commitment to our students and region, of the importance of research and creativity, and of our commitment to inclusive excellence and the creation of new knowledge.

As I’ve written before in this blog, we are accomplishing our mission in many ways. It doesn’t hurt to make sure that the expression of our mission — our mission statement — is always before us as we go about our business. It should influence every decision we make and how we talk about ourselves as an institution.

A banner approach

As the academic year gets underway, you’ll see other reminders of our mission with the installation of new banners in parts of campus. The banners highlight some of the concepts of our mission statement in pictures or words. I also hope they help us take even more pride in our beautiful campus.

Our focus on the mission statement seems to be taking hold. Since it first started appearing in buildings, a number of people on campus have requested smaller versions for the lobbies of their office areas. We’re glad to share. Please email universitycommunications@siu.edu with your requests. (And thanks to the teams in Plant and Service Operations, Administration and Finance and University Communications and Marketing for their work on these projects.)

Core values

The mission statement must be our touchpoint when we reflect on our core values: supporting student success through experiential learning, ensuring that every graduate is emotionally intelligent and culturally competent, developing knowledge that addresses real issues, and serving as an economic driver and partner within our community.

Every action we take must be put within the context of our mission. That’s worth remembering, every day.