Feature Story

You’ll Never Walk Alone

staff and student walking

College is challenging.

The transition from high school and home to campus and residence hall can be daunting. Classes are more difficult; expectations are higher. And there’s pressure to forge new friendships and find a place in an unfamiliar social setting.

But as Jordan Powell ’19 learned early on, there are also a lot of people at Widener eager to help students overcome any hurdles.

“In the beginning I felt embarrassed (to ask for help),” said Powell. “If Tim Cairy didn’t help me, I wouldn’t be here.”

Cairy, director of student success and retention, helped Powell, who was struggling with some classes, to break down his work into more manageable, bite-sized pieces. Cairy also helped Powell create a detailed schedule, enabling the star defensive back for Pride football to effectively manage his time and balance his responsibilities.

Today, Powell, a criminal justice major, is on track to graduate on time in May.

Cairy’s office is part of an integrated team of campus support services designed to help students find academic and personal success, and graduate ready for life and career. These offices provide the extra assistance that some students need.

“More than anything, we are a resource to students,” said Cairy.

The support services include academic coaching, career design and development, counseling and psychological services, disabilities services, health services, tutoring, math and writing centers, and the Office of Student Success and Retention.

Some students seek help on their own. But often, a professor will spot a potential issue and step forward with a concern. What at first appears academic in nature may actually be rooted in something else entirely.

“Students could be dealing with anxiety or depression, or they haven’t developed college-level coping skills,” said Geraldine Bloemker, associate provost for undergraduate academic affairs, who oversees many of the support services. “We coordinate our efforts. How can we do something to intervene and turn something around?”

Cairy reaches out to students by text, social media, and other means, and touches base with parents when needed. He walks students through available services, figuratively and, sometimes, literally.

“We’ll call the Counseling Center or help with the tutoring application,” he said. “We’ll walk them to the Writing Center.”

At the Writing Center, students will find faculty instructors ready to offer one-on-one help with assignments – from brainstorming and researching topics, to developing a thesis and organizing work, to revising compositions.

“We help give students the voice to say what they want to say,” said English Professor Patricia Dyer, the Center’s director. “But we’re here to teach, not just correct.”

Disabilities Services helps ensure all students have an equal opportunity to experience university life, and provides academic accommodations to those who need it.

At the Counseling Center, students can receive counseling, psychotherapy, education, assessment, and limited psychiatric services.

After diagnosed with cancer her first year of the physical therapy program, Taylor Stone ’20 turned to the Counseling Center for help managing stress.

“Dealing with it myself was not the smartest of options, so I reached out. They were very nice and they’re on campus, so they know the students, scheduling is easy,” said Stone. “I could work through everything I was feeling in a safe environment.”

Audrey Rucker never expected to need extra help. She was doing well in classes and enjoying her time playing volleyball. But freshman year Rucker was diagnosed with a heart condition that required multiple surgeries, some during the semesters.

Rucker never missed a beat. Working with support services and her communication studies professors, she took an online class and video conferenced into others while recovering.

Rucker graduated last May with her class, and today works in marketing for Lincoln Financial Group. “If I wasn’t at Widener when all this happened,” she said, “I wouldn’t have graduated on time. I wouldn’t have been able to do this someplace else.”

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