No matter where faculty, staff and students are located across the Washington State University system, if they are concerned about a student’s wellbeing, there is a central place where they can seek help.

The Office of the Dean of Students has launched the Student Care Network, making it easier for people at all WSU locations to refer students who may need help.

Jill Creighton, associate vice president and dean of students in the Division of Student Affairs, said the Student Care Network evolved from what was formerly called the Aware Network, which was established on the Pullman campus over a decade ago.

“The new name, Student Care Network, clarifies for people that this service is focused on caring for students,” Creighton said. “It also emphasizes that it is all about connecting students with resources, letting them know they are valued and have a place to be heard while searching for purpose and success.”

Early intervention key

Those who make referrals on the network share a variety of concerns about students ranging from access to financial, home, or food security, to those who are diagnosed with a serious illness, struggling academically, or might need assistance advocating for themselves. Perhaps someone in their family back home is going through a difficult time. Creighton said the student care teams can do a lot to get students connected with the right people and places that can provide them help. The earlier they know about a student, the sooner they can reach out to them, if necessary.

By creating a website that can be located easily and utilized at all WSU locations, the goal is to remove any hesitancy faculty and staff may have in referring students who might need help. Creighton said she and her staff frequently hear that some people question whether to make a referral thinking the situation doesn’t rise to the level of needing intervention, or simply don’t know where to go to do so.

“We want community members to share information with us as early as possible because that is when we can do our best work, before it’s an emergency or a crisis,” Creighton said.

Since the beginning of July, the Office of the Dean of Students has helped over 1,250 students. Approximately 350 of them were referrals made on the Student Care (formerly the Aware) Network. Now that the network has expanded systemwide, Creighton anticipates that number will increase exponentially.

“We want the WSU community to know we are partners with them in the process of looking out for students,” she said. “We are an ear if they want to share thoughts with us. We provide an opportunity to approach situations from a different perspective, framework or ethic of care, because we are concerned about the holistic experience of our students.”

Leveraging resources

The word “network” in the name is significant for a couple of reasons. First, each campus has formalized a student care team, a network of individuals that can work together to respond to concerns about students. Student care teams consist of mental health and medical professionals, campus safety personnel, and others who can provide appropriate interventions and resources for the wellbeing and success of students. Secondly, being able to track all referrals from across the system in one place allows student care teams at each campus to assess trends and share resources across campuses.

Creighton said the Student Care Network is designed to help diffuse the responsibility and attitude of care throughout the entire institution.

“The notion that we can leverage resources across the system is huge and critical,” said Chris Meiers, vice chancellor of Student Affairs at WSU Tri-Cities. “The more that we are able to articulate the full slate of resources available to students, while still recognizing the unique needs on each campus, is going to improve retention and graduation across the board. That’s where this system will shine.”

Domanic Thomas, vice president of student affairs at WSU Vancouver, said it is much easier to get a roomful of experts together to brainstorm solutions on larger campuses. This work can be isolating for those on smaller campuses.

“Our hope is that users of this website, both on the front and backends, will find the experience seamless,” Thomas said. “Those referring students will feel there is more support from the system, and the responders know there are more hands-on-deck that can chip-in on high level issues.”

He said the Student Care Network will help them gain a full picture of where students may have had previous touchpoints with the institution. That will help them design a more effective plan, or “wrap-around support” as Thomas called it, to better address students’ immediate needs.

Creighton emphasized the Student Care Network does not serve as first responders. If a student poses an immediate threat to themselves or to others, people should call 911.