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Illness crashed your semester? There’s help for that at USU

December 17th, 2013 Posted in Education

By Christopher Farnes

LOGAN – Andrew Haslem dreamed of flying for a living ever since he was a child. Five years ago, Haslem was a sophomore in Utah State University’s aviation program. As his third semester at USU progressed, Haslem continued to grow more and more ill with a cold, fatigue and weight loss. It got bad enough that Haslem finally went to be checked out by his doctor to try and get well enough to pass the FAA’s health requirements. It was then that Haslem was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which automatically ruled him out of contention for his FAA flight certificate. Haslem and his flight instructors knew then that there was nothing that could be done. His dream crushed, Haslem lost interest in college and failed his classes. He hasn’t been back since.

“I had planned all my life to become a pilot but for reasons I couldn’t control, that dream died for me,” Haslem said. “I failed all my classes that semester and had no idea what I could do to fix it. I had no desire to go back at the time and I just got more and more depressed about it.”

Every day students drop out or fail college classes due to illness and disease. The National College Health Assessment is a nationally recognized research survey which assists in collecting data about students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions. The NCHA reported for the spring 2013 semester that the following percentage of students reported these factors that affected them academically: cold/flu/sore throat, 15 percent; anxiety, 19.7 percent; chronic health problem or serious illness, 3.6 percent; depression, 12.6 percent; sleep difficulties, 19.4 percent; and stress, 28.5 percent.

“We have quite a few dropouts each semester due to a lot of different factors,” said Jeff Sorensen, USU’s associate director of admissions. “Usually it is due to poor academic performance because they are immature or not ready for college, but it is not uncommon to have dropouts because of a serious illness.”

USU tries to help as many students as they can recover from academic-impairing diseases. They do this by providing the services of the Student Health and Wellness Center for physical ailments and the Counseling Center for psychological needs.

Chelsea Hunter, a journalism student at USU, suffered in her schoolwork when she contracted mononucleosis, or “mono.”

“At first I just thought I had a common cold and headache but after two weeks I noticed a lump in my side and under my chin so I decided to finally go in and get it checked out,” Hunter said. “I went to Instacare, paid my co-payment, and they diagnosed me right then and there that I had a severe case of mono. They told me that I had to relax and not do anything for a couple weeks and that even walking up stairs could cause my spleen to rupture.”

There are no specific guidelines from the USU administration as to how professors are to help students through times of sickness, though many students report that their professors were very understanding to their situations.

“I supplied my professors with documentation of my diagnosis, which really helped them understand, and they were more willing to help me because of it,” Hunter said. “I had a professor who had mono before so she was even more sympathetic to my case and gave me extra time to turn in those assignments that I missed.”

Jonny Prince, a chemistry student at USU, also suffered a debilitating illness that affected his schoolwork when his appendix burst during the 2013 Thanksgiving break. “I missed four or five days after the break because of my appendix and even when I came back it was hard because I needed a bag to drain my fluids,” Prince said. “My professors were understanding but I still had a lot of work to do to catch up. But in the end it turned out OK and my grades didn’t really suffer too much.”

There are some students who don’t recover enough to finish their semester out with passing grades and must retake those classes.

According to Utah State’s website, “students may drop courses without notation on the permanent record through the first 20 percent of the class. If a student drops a course following the first 20 percent of the class, a W (meaning they withdrew) will be permanently affixed to the student’s record. After 60 percent of the class is completed, the student’s academic advisor must sign any drop request, and a W with a grade assigned by the instructor will be entered on the student’s permanent record.”

USU students suffering from mental illnesses can visit the Counseling and Psychological Services department, or CAPS, in the Taggart Student Center room 306. There psychological residents such as Dr. Steven Lucero help students overcome mental concerns that are affecting their schoolwork.

“I am currently overseeing the counseling of about 30 students,” Lucero said. “I meet regularly with them as well as helping with workshops and group therapy for them to help overcome their problems.”

Lucero says that most of the students coming into the center are seeking help in overcoming anxiety over school and depression.

“We have a lot of students coming into the center in early December telling us that their grades have suffered because of depression or another mental issue and want a note from us so they can re-take tests and assignments,” Lucero said. “We need to know these students before we are able to do something like that. If there are students who really need help they need to come in immediately so we can get it sorted out sooner.”

The Student Health and Wellness Center at 850 E. 1200 North in Logan treats students’ physical health issues. They report that the most common health problems are colds and sports’ injuries.

For students who fail their classes due to illness there are several ways for them to get turn those grades into passing grades. Firstly they may choose to retake the course completely to try and achieve a higher grade. There are also appeal forms that may be turned into the registrar’s office to try and get failed grades taken off their records.

“There is the option for students to file for either an Academic Records Adjustment or an Academic Renewal if there are extenuating circumstances,” Sorensen said. “An Academic Records Adjustment can get rid of bad grades within two years of that semester while an Academic Renewal is for students with failing grades that happened at least five years ago and can be taken out if have not been a student for at least a year.”

That is an option that is available for past students like Haslem, but the truth is that many students that drop out due to sickness do not return. Haslem now works two part-time jobs to pay the medical expenses for him and his girlfriend.

“I used to get letters from Utah State all the time asking me to come in to talk about my situation and to see if something could be worked out,” Haslem said. “At the time of my diagnosis I just didn’t care about school anymore, but now I realize that eventually I’ve got to do something about it. I know it’ll be hard but I’d like to think that I’ll go back to school someday.”


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