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.

Discoveries and inventions demonstrate the Saluki spirit

Two men work at a computer
Southern Illinois University Carbondale computer science senior Ayush Kohli, seated, and Amiangshu Bosu, assistant professor of computer science, work in a computer lab. Kohli recently won third place at the Association of Computer Machinery’s Student Research Competition world final, a prestigious, international event, featuring the work of 17 regional ACM student research competition champions.

Our mission statement refers to “innovation in research and activity” and “nurturing student success.” We accomplish both through emphasis on student research.

In fact, studying at a major research institution confers a wealth of benefits upon our students. They are constantly pushed to explore real-world problems and come up with practical solutions.

The result is a level of leadership and innovation that never fails to impress.

Innovation recognized on a national level

For instance, two Salukis were recently recognized for their creations.

Ayush Kohli, a senior earning a degree in computer science, earned an award from the Association of Computer Machinery’s Student Research Competition for an app he designed. The app, DecisionDroid, uses machine learning to help identify malicious and pirated apps for Android devices.

Tessa Barnes, a junior in industrial design, gained recognition for her design of a prosthetic device that could be used by musicians to play brass instruments. Her device would give its users much better mobility than similar devices currently on the market.

New revelations about our history

SIU students were at the forefront of the discovery of a new American fort on the site of Fort Kaskaskia. Archeology classes have been conducting hands-on research in the area since last year, and had trouble reconciling their findings with the historical record, which said that U.S. troops inhabited a French fort five decades after it was abandoned.

This year, they found that the U.S. troops had, in fact, built a completely new fort approximately 300 meters from the French fort. The discovery opens a whole new avenue of research on the site.

These are just a few examples of the recent contributions SIU students have made. Our campus is full of inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders. I’m excited to hear about the next big breakthrough.

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.

A semester to remember

This weekend’s commencement ceremonies serve as our semiannual reminder to take a breath and reflect on the great things SIU is doing for its students and the community.

To all of our graduating seniors, congratulations and good luck. I hope that you leave us with a sense of purpose and fond memories. We look forward to seeing what you do with your potential.

Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on the spring semester. I talked about many of our achievements last week. But this was such a remarkable semester, I wanted to highlight a few other accomplishments.

New leadership helps SIU plan for the future

While we look toward SIU’s future, we’ve been working to appoint strong leaders to help us fulfill our mission. This semester, we filled four key roles:

SIU Research gets noticed

In February, SIU received what is believed to be the largest specimen of black carp ever analyzed from the Mississippi River. Our researchers are studying the invasive species to learn about issues like its range, health and reproductive potential.

Another SIU researcher analyzing the Mississippi River found that efforts to control flooding along the river have actually resulted in bigger floods. His findings were published in the prestigious journal Nature in April.

This important research could lead to new ways to preserve the river habitat for future generations, and SIU is leading the way.

Turning to the social sciences, a professor and his student in anthropology earned funding from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of Hurricane Harvey on Houston residents. They hope to show how socioeconomic status can affect the way people view disasters.

These are just a couple of the vital questions SIU faculty, graduates and undergraduates are looking to answer. Our research is helping to solve some of society’s most pressing problems, from sustainability to health and safety.

Day of Giving exceeds expectations

The community really went above and beyond in March to “Give the Gift of Experience,” during SIU’s annual Day of Giving. More than 1,800 donors gave more than $480,000 to students and programs during a 24-hour campaign.

Looking back at the amazing things we accomplished this semester, I am excited about what we can do in the upcoming school year. I hope you are, too.

A week in the life of SIU

In the wake of all of the noise, it might be easy to miss hearing about all of the great things happening at SIU. Here’s a sampling of good news from the last week alone.

Team paddles cardboard boat
The Plant & Service Operation team paddles their boat to shore during the 45th Annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta on Campus Lake Saturday.
  • Men add a weight to a model of a steel bridge
    SIU’s team took second place in the steel bridge competition last week.
    Last weekend, we wrapped up a multi-day, student-led event hosting 400 engineering students from 15 universities for the Midcontinent Student Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers. SIU teams won first place in the technical paper competition, second in the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions, and third in the GeoWall competition.
  • We also announced student winners in the statewide Radiologic Sciences Scholar Bowl and the Louis Regional CFA Institute Research Challenge.
  • Thursday, we held the 2018 Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards, honoring Qingfeng Ge (Scholar Excellence Award), John D. Mellinger (Teaching Excellence Award, tenured and tenure-track), Gail Thomas (Teaching Excellence Award, non-tenure track), Trent W. Ford (Early Career Faculty Excellence Award), and Richard Cole and Emily J. Spann (Staff Excellence Award).
  • On Friday we celebrated our commitment to sustainability, recognizing individuals for their dedication and awarding Green Fund grants.
  • Also on Friday, we honored three distinguished alumni who serve as role models for all of our students. In addition, we hosted a meeting of our SIU Alumni Association board, a group of individuals dedicated to engaging alumni in the life of the university.
  • Chancellor Carlo Montemagno shakes hands with Ralph Becker
    I had the great privilege to dedicate the newly remodeled Ralph Becker Pavilion with Mr. Becker on Saturday.
  • Saturday was another great day. We dedicated the beautiful new Ralph Becker Boathouse and Pavilion in honor of a stellar and generous alumnus and brought the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta back to campus lake.
  • Saturday was also the launch of SIU Presents with Ice Cube, an event we will build upon as we revitalize student life and community engagement.
  • The week also gave us the 2018 Student Showcase and Runway Fashion Show, the theater production of Gem of the Ocean, American Airlines Career Day, a guest lecture by Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times,and many more activities and opportunities that benefited our students, faculty, staff and community.

And that’s just one week! The activities and celebrations continue as we head toward commencement in just two weeks.

There’s a lot happening at SIU. I encourage you to get engaged and help spread the word of the many great opportunities here.

Big things are coming April 7

The Big Event: A Saluki Day of Service April 7

This Saturday, hundreds of Salukis will fan across Southern Illinois to participate in community service projects. The Big Event started last year as a way for the SIU students, faculty and staff to further our mission of making our community a better place.

Community service is at the heart of SIU’s mission

SIU is already a major economic driver for the region, providing jobs and attracting people from around the country to study, live and visit.

Our students also contribute more than 30,000 hours of community service every year through registered student organizations, coordinated drives and individual volunteerism. That’s in addition to the time our faculty and staff contribute on their own time.

The Big Event is a way to celebrate and expand that commitment to our community.

Making the Big Event even bigger

During last year’s Big Event, 772 Salukis served 2,316 hours for 15 local non-profit agencies. They helped agencies such as The Boys and Girls Club, Keep Carbondale Beautiful and the Jackson County Humane Society.

For many participants, this was their first exposure to volunteerism, and many also continued their service long after the day ended.

This year, our goal is to recruit even more volunteers to serve at least 16 nonprofits. Even one additional volunteer can go a long way.

Step up and help out

You can still join the excitement. They will be taking walk-in registrations the day of the event. Volunteers will be taken on a first come-first served basis.

Any student, faculty or staff member who is at least 18 years old is welcome.

Join me on April 7 to make BIG things happen.

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.

In the Dawg Pound


My favorite part of a Saluki basketball game, besides winning, is the Dawg Pound. Students gather in the stands on the south side of the arena – the Dawg Pound – to demonstrate their support of the team loudly. They cheer in full Saluki gear, follow the cues of our great pep band, and add their own form of entertainment to the game experience. One example: At the Bradley game, it was quite a sight as they threw confetti when the team was announced.

I love the Dawg Pound. It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s special to SIU. It is a community that comes together every game to say: “I’m proud to be a Saluki.”

Dawg Pound brings a positive energy to the SIU experience that I hope we can spread across campus. Let’s do it!

Support our teams

I hope to see a great turnout, both in the Dawg Pound and the rest of the arena, for the last home men’s basketball game of the season vs. Loyola at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, in SIU Arena. It should be a great game, as the team is currently in second place in the conference standings behind Loyola. We also hope for a great showing at the Missouri Valley Conference championships in St. Louis March 1-4.

The women’s basketball team, also doing well and in fourth place in the conference, has two more home games: Thursday, March 1, at 6 p.m. against Indiana State and Saturday, March 3, at 2 p.m. vs. Evansville. Both games are in SIU Arena. The MVC championships follow March 8-11 in Moline.

Please come support our student athletes.

 

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.