Recognition week highlights students, offers opportunities

More than a quarter of the university’s students are getting extra attention this week.

National Adult Student Recognition Week is an event held on college campuses countrywide started by the Association of Non-Traditional Students of Higher Education. The week, which started Friday and ends Nov. 11, includes 10 campus events meant to encourage non-traditional students to continue their education and provide them with scholarship opportunities and any extra services they need, said Deborah Barnett, the coordinator of non-traditional student services who has helped host events.

She said there are nearly 5,000 non-traditional students on campus.

Barnett said one question she has heard most about the week is what exactly qualifies a student as non-traditional.

“I define it as adult students, meaning adult responsibilities,” Barnett said.

She said her office defines a student as non-traditional by a few characteristics such as whether they work full-time hours, have returned to school after a gap in their education, had children or family to support or are veterans. She said non-traditional student services sums these students up to have adult characteristics because many factors determine a student’s status as traditional or otherwise.

According to information for the week, the event’s mission is to build community through scholarship, service and support. However, Barnett said the week’s real challenge is to spread the word out about all that is done to accommodate these students at the university.

“It allows schools to recognize not only the offices that support the student population on these campuses, but also the accomplishments of these students,” she said.

Barnett said this week helps to raise awareness so there is an opportunity for the university to advocate for non-traditional students’ needs. She said many students are oblivious to the aid that is available for their circumstances.

“Some of the students we talk to do not know that our office exists, let alone all the services we provide,” Barnett said.

Some of the needs Barnett said the center works to meet include additional services outside of regular business hours, a more online format for their classes and child care services and family housing, which is provided at Evergreen Terrace.

She said this week’s events allow students to come together and find resources, specifically regarding financial aid. She said students were also informed of scholarship opportunities at Tuesday’s Soup and Scholarships event.

Eleven campus organization and offices assisted in hosting the week’s events, Barnett said. One group, SIU’s Touch of Nature Center, hosted Haunted Hollow on Sunday, where families were able to participate in boat rides, trivia activities and a campfire.

“We hoped non-traditional students with families would come participate and have a positive experience,” said Vicki Lang-Mendenhall, a representative for Touch of Nature.

Heather Will is a non-traditional student from Elkville and mother of four with two jobs who said she wants to be a business education teacher. Will received a $500 scholarship created by the Non-traditional Student Services office for this semester.

“I decided to go back to school because there was a lack of opportunity to get jobs in southern Illinois without a degree,” she said.

Will said she learned about the scholarship from a professor who suggested it to her last year. She said Non-Traditional Student Services staff also informs her about other opportunities and scholarships.

“They tell you about things I would not know about otherwise,” she said.

Will said child care services and reduced memberships for children at the Recreation Center were two helpful opportunities she learned about.

“I am not on campus except for classes, so I greatly appreciate their services because I feel connected,” Will said. “Besides receiving the scholarship, having their services gives people like me the confidence that someone else believes in your education and goal.”

Barnett said the week also helps faculty, staff and administrators recognize that non-traditional students are not just here on campus but also have needs the university must address.

“This week helps make students aware of our services but also helps to make them feel like they are not alone,” she said.

Barnett said one of the office’s goals is to help students complete their degrees.

“I think this week is so important not to only to serve this population but to make aware that they are here and growing all the time not just here at SIU but at college campuses around the country,” Barnett said.

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