Getting re-acquainted at midterm

Tracy Warner

A college student’s life can be filled with many new and exciting challenges. For some students, overcoming those challenges might require a little guidance and Student Development and Orientation at Western Illinois University helps to provide that assistance. SDO, located in Seal Hall, helps students to make a smooth transition to university life and provides programming to support student growth, academic success and leadership.

More than 100 Student Orientation staff leaders volunteer to assist in the fall, while 10 to 12 highly-regarded students are selected to serve on the orientation team.

When freshmen students attend the summer orientation and registration, SDO provides orientation to both students and families. According to SDO Director Tracy Scott, the focus is on how students can be both academically and personally successful.

“The teams work with both faculty and staff to help the new students make their transition in to WIU,” Scott said. “It’s geared so that families and students both know how their students can get off on the right foot and be successful during their time at WIU.”

SDO continues to assist students once they get on campus by working closely with faculty, family members, residence living staff, counselors, health service personnel and off-campus agencies. Consultation and referrals are also offered to students experiencing academic and personal challenges of any kind.

According to Scott, many times students who find that they are having difficulty may be reluctant to go for counseling for a variety of reasons. Maybe they think they can handle things on their own, or maybe they think about how their peers will view them if they go for help. Scott said SDO can help to break down the walls and stereotypes that students have formed about receiving counseling, and help them to recognize that it would be beneficial to them if they were to come in for assistance.

“We can be that middle resource to help connect them to a variety of resources, and we can do that in an environment that lets them know that if they help themselves, then there is someone here at the university along the way that will help them too,” Scott said.

For students who contemplate withdrawing from classes, SDO offers assistance, and makes sure that they are aware of all of their options and of any resources on campus that might assist them so that they don’t have to withdraw.

After early warning grades are sent out, SDO contacts students who receive them to let them know if academic assistance is needed they can contact the office and make an appointment to assess what factors might be going on in their life that might be causing them to have academic difficulty.

“We survey students who have utilized our office for either academic assistance, personal assistance or who have contemplated withdrawing from the university, and for the last several years about 90 percent of the students surveyed have rated our office as being either excellent or good as far as responding to their needs,” Scott said. “That’s something we are very proud of.”

For students who are experiencing immediate health, emergency or personal issues that affect their academic performance, SDO serves as an emergency contact. For students in crisis, SDO acts as a liaison between students and their family members, faculty, university personnel and/or community agencies. SDO staff also provides academic and moral support to those who have experienced a personal tragedy, and in the case of the death of a student or immediate family member, the staff assists with necessary notifications.

SDO is also responsible for two publications. Preview is a guide that outlines the services, departments and resources that are available to students and their parents. The Student Handbook is an academic calendar that has tips on how students can be successful. It also highlights key dates that students need to be aware of, like the last day to drop a class or the last day to drop a course without academic penalty.

According to Scott, the Student Handbook helps students stay on track throughout the school year, and allows students to gauge how things are going and whether they need to make any decisions by these timelines.

“One of our goals is that we want to empower students, not enable students,” Scott said. “We want to not only empower them to take responsibility for whatever is going on in their life, but help guide them so that they can get back on track and be successful.”

During orientation, SDO also helps coordinate a brochure called Health and Safety which features Disability Services, the Counseling Center, Beu Health Center and the Office of Public Safety, as well as other services. The brochure is given to students and their families to try to help them understand how they can be healthy and well during their time at Western, and how they can make good choices.

For more information on SDO and the services that they offer, students can visit Seal Hall 301 or call 309/298-1884.