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Kurt Weber

Dr. Kurt Weber

March 2008

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Counselor extends aid to Northern Illinois University students

Students returning to Northern Illinois University after a deadly shooting drew on support from a team of mental health professionals. Among them was Kurt Weber, director of the St. Norbert counseling center.

More than 600 counselors responded to a request from NIU to assist students in their return to campus life after the tragedy that left five students dead and more than 15 others injured.

Classes were canceled following the shooting and students did not return to classes until Feb. 25. During that time, faculty and staff were assisted by NIU mental health professionals in understanding their own responses and learning to move forward as effectively as possible.

The counselors arrived in time for an orientation on Sunday, Feb. 24. During the campus-wide memorial service, they were assigned to specific locations across the campus to assist students who experienced distress during the service itself.

There were sufficient counselors on hand for at least one to be assigned to every class meeting that took place on Monday or Tuesday. They were in place to follow the instructor’s lead.

If the professor was willing, the counselor would provide psychological first aid, to make the students aware that specific resources were available, and that others were continually available to help them manage their response to the events.

Weber, a licensed psychologist, reports that all the professors to whose classes he was assigned were very amenable to his presence, and clearly had the students’ best interests at heart.

He was assigned to several undergraduate classrooms, as well as to courses held in the NIU School of Nursing.

The graduate students he met, in particular, seemed to want to process their responses. Some graduate nursing students, already in practice in the area, reported that they had been on duty in local emergency rooms when students injured in the incident were brought in.

Weber says his goal was to strive for a sense of balance. “When events occur over which we have little or no control, a sort of despair can be present. However, students need to be as fully aware as possible of the hope that exists in their lives, and celebrate it to the degree possible in trying circumstances.”

Weber, who served as a pre-doctoral intern in the NIU counseling and student development center during the 1998-99 academic year, says that he was proud to have been a part of the effort to aid the students. He was overwhelmed by the support shown to him by the NIU community, and the outpouring of thanks offered during his time there.

He acknowledged the St. Norbert community, too, for giving total support to his mission, most particularly Mary Oling-Sisay, vice president of student life, and the staff of the counseling center for their efforts during his absence.

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