Concerned about your students?

By Erin McKenney, Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs, Department of Applied Ecology

Let’s face it: the Wolfpack is facing tough times (Figure 1). Whether we’re monitoring student morale via check-ins, or just taking note of the increased number of challenges students are sharing anecdotally, it’s clear that the pandemic is wearing on us. As Academic Coordinator and DUP for Applied Ecology, I regularly offer one-on-one consults for course development and departmental workshops on teaching; but there are an increasing number of requests for advice on what to do when students “go missing” or exhibit concerning behaviors. Here I’ve outlined my “pipeline” for addressing student absence, disengagement, or other concerns.

  1. I email individual students who miss 2 classes or a “milestone” assignment (i.e., part of a term project).
    1. “I’m concerned that you didn’t complete the [milestone/assignment] that was due on [date] at [time]. As documented in the syllabus and explained on the first day of class, all milestone assignments for the term project must be completed for you to receive any credit for that bundle. Please reply as soon as you get this to let me know you are okay, and so that we can discuss a schedule for you to complete missed work, as well as any strategies to help keep you motivated and supported across the semester.”
  2. Submit a Concerning Behavior Referral through NCSU CARES
  3. Email the student’s academic advisor
    1. At the start of each semester, I download a detailed roster for each class through MyPack Portal that includes each student’s academic advisor.
    2. “I’m reaching out to you about your advisee, [student’s name], a [year] currently enrolled in my [class name and number]. [Student] has missed (multiple) class(es), and has not responded to any emails. In the meantime, they’ve missed a deadline to turn in the first draft of their abstract – meaning, they currently have a zero for the entire project “bundle” portion of their grade. In addition, as of 1:30pm today they will also miss the deadline to peer review another group’s abstract. (I reviewed this policy in detail on Day 1; and it is also outlined in the syllabus as well as the Conservation Campaign document that they received on the first day of class.) I am happy to negotiate a schedule for them to make up the missed work (albeit, with 50% deductions for late assignments); but I am most concerned that they are currently completely out of contact.

      From past experience, I appreciate that academic advisors are sometimes more familiar with specific challenges that students may be facing; so at the point that I submit a report of student concern, I also reach out to the advisor (as I am doing now). If you have any information about [student’s name] that can provide further context to their unexplained absence, I would be grateful.

      Thanks very much for your help!”

  1. If I received a letter of accommodation on the student’s behalf from the Disability Resources Office (DRO) at the beginning of the semester, and I receive no response from the student, I also contact DRO (
    1. “As discussed at the beginning of the semester, I am 100% supportive of [Student] attending class in person or online, or watching class recordings and completing the work asynchronously – whatever best suits and supports their needs. However – I have emailed them several times to follow up after missed classes / assignments, with suggestions for ways that they can keep up with the material (and to make sure that they know I am available to clarify any questions they might have); and I am concerned that they have not responded to any of my emails. I am trying to support a maximally flexible learning schedule; but I need [Student] to confirm that they have received my emails, commit to the learning requirements, etc. I am particularly concerned because [provide any specific context, as needed].

      Looking further ahead – all students are working in groups to complete a data analysis project, and I am wondering whether that will translate well to the current asynchronous participation. I’m keen to discuss these details and work something out with [Student]; but wanted to reach out at this point to discuss options for support. My greatest concern is that [Student] is safe and well; but I am increasingly concerned about their ability to make up missed work at this point. I would appreciate any updates if you hear from them.”

This is my personal pipeline for supporting students who develop concerning behaviors (or absence) across the semester. But, there are other ways to support and prepare: for example, Moodle includes a pre-configured block of Student Services, which includes links to Student Support on campus:

And Wolfpack Wellness launched Mental Health First Aid training in fall 2021 to provide students, staff, and faculty with the skills to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis.

Figure 1. Students at NCSU experienced increased depression, anxiety, and academic stress in 2020-2021, mirroring national trends. Source: ​​