Summer programs enhance education

I am a strong believer in the benefits of hands-on and experiential learning. SIU offers a number of unique opportunities to participate in research and creative activities starting in a student’s freshman year.

These opportunities extend beyond the SIU campus. This summer, many of our students are gaining invaluable experience and knowledge by participating in countless internships. Others are traveling around the world to learn about other cultures in study abroad programs.

Internships help students burnish their resumes

I’ve seen many recent college grads lamenting online about the difficulties of landing a new job without experience. Luckily, many Salukis are putting themselves at the head of the pack by taking on summer internships.

For instance, Emily Buice, a junior in our communications studies program, is on her way to Brussels, Belgium, for an internship with the public affairs department of the U.S. Mission to the European Union.

And Emma Rients, a junior studying Animal Science, will be one of five students in Illinois to join the new I-BELIEF (Illinois Beef Experiential Learning and Industry Exposure Fellowship) program.

Several SIU students also spent the legislative session in Springfield this year, thanks to a handful of internships offered through the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. These students include Oneida Vargas, Joshua McCray, Darrin Reinhart and Michael Smith, and Sarah Farwick and Gabby Robles.

While summer might seem like the perfect time to complete an internship, these opportunities are available year-round. Students sometime connect with employers on their own, but most find internships through their individual colleges, schools and departments or the Career Development Center.

I encourage every student to explore the options and take advantage of these great learning experiences.

Study abroad programs expand student horizons

Our students are also fanning across the globe this summer to take advantage of numerous study abroad programs under the guidance of SIU faculty.

One of the most popular recurring opportunities is the College of Business study abroad program in France, taking place from May 13 through June 10. This is the 16th  year for the program, which is conducted in partnership with the Grenoble Graduate School of Business. Participating graduate students can earn a certificate in innovation, design thinking and intrapreneurship.

Students in another popular program, the Messages from Hiroshima: Global Peace Education program recently returned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, where they took a deeper look at the history and politics behind nuclear technology and the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Global seminars are also being held in Greece, Spain, Cuba, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany and Egypt.

So, whether getting practical experience to build up their resumes, traveling the world to immerse themselves in other cultures, or both, Salukis aren’t resting on their laurels this summer. I can’t wait to hear about all your great experiences.

Defining what makes us remarkable

Seth Godin, in his book “Purple Cow,” notes that the phrase “you can’t out Amazon Amazon” was once posted on a banner in Walmart headquarters as the company was deciding whether to venture into online retail business. The point was that the company should find its own path rather than emulate – and lose to – its competitors.

While an institution of higher education is not a retailer, and SIU is certainly not Amazon or Walmart or any of their competitors, we can think about this message within our own context. We are not the major research university to the north of us, and we are not the regional university to the south. We shouldn’t try to be either.

We are SIU, and we need to define and communicate what makes us remarkable if we are to stand out to prospective students. We need to ensure that people perceive us not as just another university, but as an exciting, forward-looking academic community.

Claiming our niche

Solar Charging Station located near the west end of Morris Library.We can start by embracing our strengths. We are a research university that is small enough to provide personal, hands-on experiences yet offer a breadth of comprehensive programs.

We provide every student – not only a few – with outstanding opportunities for experiential learning, from research to creative activities to community service to leadership. And we provide these opportunities early in a student’s academic career.

We can emphasize these strengths by further building extraordinary opportunities for personal growth through expanded focus on experiential learning and a robust campus life.

The role of academic reorganization

Academic reorganization can create further distinctiveness. We can deliver an educational experience outside the lane through innovative academic offerings. Our goal should be to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow and a fulfilling 40-year career.

Our focus on updating the core curriculum will focus on growing the whole person – communication skills, people skills, cultural competency and personal development. Our graduates will stand out not only because of what they know, but also because of who they are.

Creating community

Even as we grow enrollment, targeting an optimal size of 18,300 by 2025, we can maintain a personalized approach that makes every student feel like a valued member of our community.

This sense of being a Saluki, part of a family, is an SIU trademark that we should cherish even as we improve upon it through strong student services and positive, meaningful interaction with faculty members. Every student should be treated as a member of a tight-knit community in every engagement – from the first email, phone call or visit through graduation and beyond.

Making it happen

As we embrace our strengths and revitalize our academic programs and student services, we can stand out as an institution that provides an elite, private university experience with a public university cost, a breadth of comprehensive programs that can be matched by few private institutions, and a remarkable student experience that leads to well-rounded graduates prepared to become 21st century leaders.

We are on our way. I welcome all you do to help shape our remarkable future.

Retention is magic

Growing enrollment isn’t only about recruiting new students. It’s about retaining those we have.

Enrollment growth on the recruitment side of the equation will take time as we revitalize SIU, so it’s critically important that we also immediately focus on retention.

A number of factors contribute to student persistence: the quality of our academic programs, mentoring by faculty members, strong advising, and the quality of campus life.

We can ensure every student has the support needed – through strong academic advising and faculty mentoring – to ensure that they will stay in school and graduate.

Retention plan

Several years ago, the university developed a retention plan that appeared to have some success in its first year. Unfortunately, the plan began to gather dust and we have lost our way.

I have asked the provost’s office to work with deans and others to revisit the plan, identifying what worked, what didn’t, what we might revive and what we want to add. I hope the campus community will engage in the effort.

Longer-term retention will also be positively affected by our revitalized academic programs, a revised core curriculum, and our attention to student life and the total SIU experience.

The retention cycle

Retention cycle chartThe retention cycle is indeed magic. If we focus on quality education and support, our students have greater success, which drives greater retention, allowing us to have larger classes of juniors and seniors, generating more resources that we can reinvest in our programs.

Currently, 27 percent of the freshmen who enroll at SIU graduate in four years, while 44 percent graduate in six years. If we dedicate ourselves to the magic of retention, we can change these rates to 55 percent for all students in four years and 65 percent in six years by 2025. I believe we can do it with the commitment of every faculty and staff member. Please join me in making that commitment.

It’s Greek to me

Members of the Kappa Alpha Order
From left: Clayton Bertoletti, Jacob Selsor, Brady Cummings, Peyton Boysen, Joe Locher, Evan Smith, Hunter Hill,  Jake Barker, and Jordan Mullen.

Congratulations to all members of our Kappa Alpha Order fraternity for earning five awards – including Samuel Zenas Ammen Award for Chapter Excellence – last month.

The award for chapter excellence is given to the top 10 percent of chapters nationally for excellence in all chapter functions:

  • academic programming,
  • academic achievement,
  • community service,
  • philanthropy,
  • public and fraternal communications/excellence in social media,
  • educational programming,
  • membership education,
  • chapter finances, and
  • recruitment and chapter growth.

The chapter also won awards for educational programming, scholastic achievement, and excellence in fraternal as well as social media communication.

I thank them for bringing pride to themselves, our Greek system, and SIU Carbondale.

An important aspect of student life

SIU’s first fraternity and sorority were established in 1923. Today, our 35 Greek fraternities and sororities provide leadership, service and social experiences that add value to their members and to the campus. Too often, we read about the negatives of Greek life on other campuses, so it’s easy to forget about the benefits and values of Greek organizations.

At SIU, for example, Greek students have higher graduate point averages, retention rates, and graduation rates than the student body as a whole. This is because they focus on academics through study hours, mentoring and other strategies. Members also rely on each other as part of a community.

They volunteer on campus and regionally on projects. For instance, they work closely with Keep Carbondale Beautiful to support the Adopt-A-Spot program and clean-up initiatives, and they work with the American Red Cross to organize an annual Homecoming blood drive.

And Greek organizations help attract students who are looking for the type of experience Greek life can offer.

Greek houses on campus

The old Greek row on the west side of campus reminds us that at one time, many fraternities and sororities lived on campus. I’m pleased to report that several chapters are working with their national organizations to explore bringing their houses to campus. This will be a long process, but it is one more step in revitalizing campus life.

Students lead the Saluki pack

Students talking outside

I have said before that a comprehensive university needs to offer its students more than career training. It needs a core curriculum that provides students with a broad base of knowledge and a wide range of electives to help students specialize their skills. This is true. But, to be a truly comprehensive university and produce the type of graduates who go on to be leaders in their fields, an institution needs to go beyond the classroom.

Here at SIU, we embrace this challenge to provide not only a well-rounded education, but also a vibrant and engaging campus life. Our student body is one of the most diverse in the state, consisting of students from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide variety of interests. Providing opportunities for each student to thrive is essential to our core mission. At the same time, we are limited in the number of classes we can offer.

So how do we expand our classroom experience to allow students to socialize, build real-world skills and emerge as leaders? By letting our students lead the way. Our campus is home to more than 300 registered student organizations.

Registered Student Organizations bring Salukis together

To me, the best thing about RSOs is that they are driven by students. With some guidance from a faculty advisor, students are instrumental in starting new RSOs. Students determine the RSO’s activities and mission. Students manage every aspect of the RSO, from recruitment to fundraising to event planning.

This means that RSOs are tailored specifically to what our students want and need to supplement their education at SIU. Groups specialize in anything from engineering to arts, student government to religious groups, sports to professional honorary societies.

While some of these groups are more active than others, there are many that do exceptional things. For instance, in a recent blog, I talked about the accomplishments of the amazing Flying Salukis, who consistently place at the top of national competitions, and our robotics team, whose robot “Winston” recently dominated a national engineering completion.

Here are a few other notable groups:

Engineering of all shapes and sizes

Students who want to know how things work have numerous opportunities to dig in and create something thanks to the variety of RSOs connected with the College of Engineering.

SIU’s branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers have topped competitions with their steel bridge and concrete canoe designs. This year, SIU will host 16 teams for the Mid-Continent Student Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers April 19-21. I fully expect our team to make SIU proud. Other engineering focused RSOs build Formula-style racecars, moonbuggies and rockets for various competitions.

Stewards of the environment

As I’ve discussed before, sustainability is an issue close to my heart, and Salukis are exceptional stewards of the environment. Many RSOs give students a chance to take that commitment a step further.

S.E.N.S.E. (Students Embracing Nature, Sustainability, and the Environment) is where many sustainability efforts across campus are born. These dedicated students led the initiative to institute the student green fee and work every day to protect the environment.

Creativity abounds

RSOs across campus help Salukis express their creativity in any medium, associated with the School of Art and Design, Theater, Music, or Mass Communications and Media Arts.

The Big Muddy Crew works to plan and organize the annual Big Muddy Film Festival, which will celebrate its 40th year Feb. 19-25. The festival’s schedule is packed with films from a variety of genres and many focus on important social issues.

The Africana Theater Laboratory highlights African and African American art by producing theatrical performances and events featuring minority student artists. Any student can participate, regardless of experience or cultural or ethnic background.

Business and financial leaders start here

Got a head for business? SIU has a whole host of RSOs for you.

The Saluki Student Investment Fund traditionally outperforms 90 percent of professionally managed midcap portfolios. The group more than doubled the portfolio it manages for the SIU Foundation and currently manages $1.62 million in assets. During the next academic year, a group of SSIF students will travel to Omaha to meet with Warren Buffet as part of a selective program run by the billionaire fund manager.

Re-established in 1989, Blacks Interested in Business focuses on developing business leaders. Its focus is on creating opportunity for students regardless of ethnicity or cultural background. Any student is welcome to join.

Staying active

Students who want to get moving and stay fit can participate in just about any sport imaginable.

For instance, the SIU Carbondale Equestrian Team stimulates interest in horsemanship, and provides members with an avenue to increase their knowledge about horses. They have an organized, structured riding program involving lessons and competition in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Events.

Giving back

Other RSOs focus entirely on community service and fundraising, like Up Til Dawn. They host an “up all night” event to solicit donations for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. They have raised about $20,000 this year, and won national recognition in the past for their efforts.

Salukis can pursue their passions or just have fun        

Whether they want to develop skills for a future career, give back to the community or simply have fun with their friends, chances are students can find an RSO that meets their needs. If their interests aren’t yet on the list, they’re welcome to start their own.

I can’t wait to see what these amazing groups do next.

Outstanding people make an outstanding university

Teacher talking to students

If you look at the budget for any institution of higher learning, you will notice the biggest expenditure is on personnel. At SIU, almost half of our total expenditures go to pay our faculty, staff, student workers and administrators, and for good reason. Our people define what SIU is.

That’s why I am always thrilled to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of any member of our SIU family, and why I am so excited to hear the amazing stories put forward during the nomination process for the Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards.

Nominations are due by 4:30 p.m. Feb. 9, and I encourage everyone on campus to consider nominating an outstanding coworker, teacher or mentor. These awards give us the opportunity to recognize those who have contributed so much to our community.

Exceptional new hires show a fresh perspective

Last year, we recognized the amazing contributions of several faculty and staff members, including a relatively new assistant professor, Jennida Chase from the Department of Cinema and Photography. Jennida earned the Early Career Faculty Excellence Award, receiving praise from her colleagues for her creativity, social conscience and commitment to students. Jay Needham, professor of sound and media and interim director of SIU’s Global Media Research Center, noted that she embodies what a professor should be at a comprehensive university:

“Many people teach others how to use technology, but few are ever able to integrate what is essential about artistic creation or what is culturally relevant about creating electronic media,” Needham wrote.

Accomplished professors leading the way

Michael J. Lydy, professor, Department of Zoology, has been with SIU since 2001, and stands as a wonderful example of experience driving innovation. Michael is recognized as a pioneering researcher in the field of toxicology of environmental contaminants in aquatic and terrestrial environments.

He is not only a prolific author of scientific research, with close to 200 peer-reviewed publications to his name, but is a respected mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students. Those students often win national awards for their work.

Remarkable staff supports student achievement

While our exceptional faculty deserve accolades for their contributions to our students’ success, neither they nor the university could function without solid support from our staff.

Liz Hunter exemplifies this principle. She was recognized last year for her work in developing and maintaining the university’s website strategy. Thanks in part to her efforts while serving as a member of the Americans with Disabilities Act Committee, SIU’s website topped the rankings for accessibility in a study of 140 university websites two years in a row.

Liz has been with SIU since 2005, and recently earned a promotion to assistant director of communications for admissions. Congratulations, Liz, you have certainly earned it!

Nominate an outstanding colleague today

These are just a few of the many exceptional people who make SIU such a great place to study and work. The Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards are such an amazing opportunity to recognize on the good work of people like Jennida, Kathleen and Liz.

Nominate someone today and help me shine a spotlight on those who exemplify the Saluki spirit. #ThatsASaluki