Early Alert program gaining traction

Referral-based voluntary support program already assisting students

The Early Alert Program sends referred students messages welcoming them to meet with Program Coordinator Pamela Fry in order to connect them to student support services. (Martin McFarlane/The Omega)

A new service meant to guide students to support services before their academic progress declines is well underway.

The Early Alert program, officially launched this semester, directs students referred by university faculty and staff to relevant academic and personal support services so that they can get the help they need before there is a large negative impact on their grades.

According to Pamela Fry, the learning strategist responsible for Early Alert, the program is mostly referral-based, however the program will use other indicators such as those who receive academic probation letters to determine who to make contact with.

The program aims to connect students in difficulty to services that suit their needs in order to assist them in their academic studies. The services, however, are not always academic-based, and the program works with students who are struggling with class quizzes, depression, exam anxiety, relationship problems and financial stress.

“It really runs the gamut from strictly academic issues for someone who would benefit from using the Writing Centre, for example, to something more personal, a little more lifestyle based,” Fry said.

The Early Alert process begins with a faculty or staff member contacting Fry about their concerns for a student in their class. Using contact information on file at TRU, Fry will attempt up to two times to connect with the student, usually by text message. If a student responds to her, they will meet with each other and Fry will connect them with suitable services.

The entire process is kept confidential and will not appear on any permanent student record. The only information that the faculty or staff member will receive is whether or not Early Alert made contact with the student. The program is voluntary, and there is no penalty if a student chooses not to connect.

Fry believes that having the program be voluntary reflects the culture of TRU and aims to make the program as student-oriented as possible.

“I really try to have a personal touch with the students and, for example, if a student comes into my office who clearly would benefit from speaking to a counsellor because of a struggle with mental health, I don’t [just] give them the counselling office card. I walk them down to the counselling office, I help them make an appointment, if they’d like, I come with them to the first appointment,” Fry said.

“We’re trying to personalize service and make it so that the students feel there is a caring person behind the system who wants to make sure they get the right help.”

Early Alert programs have been implemented on several other university campuses, including UBC’s Vancouver and Okanagan campuses and other universities in the United States.

According to Fry, the Early Alert program has received referrals from as early as last September during its soft launch. Future work could explore more targeted interventions, voluntary workshops and focus on international students’ cultural challenges.

While she wouldn’t comment on usage numbers, Fry said that program usage is increasing as more staff and faculty become aware of the program. More outreach and awareness is planned for the near future.

Faculty and staff who know of a student who may be experiencing difficulty in their studies or personal life are encouraged to make a referral by visiting tru.ca/earlyalert.