The year 2020 changed a lot about the student experience, but one constant is SOU’s commitment to the well-being of its 6,000 students. The SOU Cares program, part of the university’s safety net, has been a lifesaver for students in distress.
“SOU Cares largely focuses on ﬁnancial need, but the program also addresses a range of issues including mental and physical health, food insecurity, and basically anything that could impact a student’s ability to learn and thrive,” said Taylor Burke, former SOU Dean of Students.
“The aim is to assess the student’s needs and to help create a situation where they can move forward and continue at SOU. Many, many students have been retained at the university as a result of this program.”
Before leaving SOU this summer, Burke had been involved with the program since 2008 and said it is now an integral part of the university community. In its infancy, the program received about 200 Cares reports annually. During this past year, the ofﬁce ﬁelded more than 3,000 reports.
“SOU Cares is very private. It is a really beautiful system that has grown over the years,” said Burke. “We have had students cry when they are notiﬁed of the assistance. Our donors are directly impacting students in a profound way.”
As example, Burke shared a situation in which a student couldn’t afford to pay for utilities and had no heat in their apartment during a particularly cold winter. “We were able to offer ﬁnancial assistance, and that student was able to heat their home, allowing them to focus on school and complete their studies,” she said. “It’s sort of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When you can manage basic needs such as food, shelter, and security, then you can move to higher rungs which include the ability to learn and to achieve your academic goals.”
Burke added that there has always been the notion that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it on their own, but she said this is largely a myth. “All of us have at some time depended on others, and this program is a really tangible way that donors can help students get over that bump,” she said.