Chuck Strawn on how to help students

What happens if a professor feels like something is off about a student, if the student is missing classes frequently, not turning in work? What if a coach thinks that a member of the team is acting out of character?

What about another student? What if a friend seems different, and not necessarily in a good way? What does that person do?

The Student Support Team, otherwise known as the SST, is a program at Seattle Pacific University under the purview of Dean Chuck Strawn. The SST supports students who are struggling in some way, and is a resource that is available to professors, students and faculty.

“It allows us to know and build on great relationships that students may have in order to get them whatever support they need,” Strawn said. “Sometimes it’s academics, sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s emotional health, sometimes its family, all kinds of different things.”

The team connects students to the resources they need to be successful at the university, and is a method to connect students to the university itself.

The SST is comprised of a number representatives that come from different branches of the university’s programs. There are members from the Counseling Center, the Health Center, Student Life, the Provost’s Office, the Center for Learning, Off-campus Resident Life, the Multi-ethnic Programs Office, International Student Services, Campus Safety and Campus Ministries.

The growing number of faculty on the team encourages more ways for students to receive help. As the team expands, it means that there are more resources for faculty members to help their students with.

“Our goal is to have a resource [for] faculty and staff who have a student and don’t know how to interact with that student or don’t know how to support and engage that student,” Strawn said.

In many ways, the team is helping faculty help their students.

It is like this: if SPU is a computer, SST is not the software itself, but the technology behind the software that makes the computer function well.

While the different members of the team all act as a bridge between faculty and students, it also acts as a way to reveal a potential conflict.

“It could very well be that a faculty member is sharing something with us that we didn’t know, and we don’t see in one place, and helps us step in,” Strawn said. “Or it could very well be that a faculty shares something with us that we already do know, and it gives us another piece of information about what’s going on for a student.”

At the same time, the SST is a program that can inform students on what they can do to help themselves.

“It’s a resource to make sure students are aware of and getting the support that they need if they don’t already do that,” said Strawn.

Strawn described these resources as spread on a table. The “food” is there and SST is at the table with the students to help them identify what they need continue to the process of healing, changing, growing, or all three.

Though all stated in hypotheticals, Strawn explained that the kinds of situations the team assist in come with a range of complications and nuances specific to the student.

Something like a small academic misstep could seem astronomical to one student while financial instability could seem like nothing to another. It is not about whose situation is more dire, it is about the impact the situation has on the student.

Though this is a great resource for students to learn about themselves, understand their lives, or grow into a better version of themselves outside of the context of the school, it is fair to say there is also a level of bureaucracy wrapped up in the program.

In the program’s defense, it comes with the territory of being associated with a university.

“As much as this is a student thing, it’s also a retention thing — we want students to graduate. So, we have to help the individual and help their academic journey.”

The SST can come across as a Big Brother type entity, reaching its fingers into everything on and off campus. But when asked about where the line between whose problem needs addressing and whose problem does not, a question that would be asked of a program like this at other schools, Strawn said, “Every student deserves to be helped, but the help looks different.”

His response speaks to how well-intentioned Strawn and the program is.
Whether or not it feels like other parts of administration at the university have an agenda, it would appear as though SST may not.

The goal of Strawn and his team is the betterment of the students, all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds. The team wants students to know that help is available if it feels needed. It will not be forced upon them, but it is there, and that is what matters.

“Now we’ve got this opportunity and ability to support them [students] in ways that allow them to thrive.”

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