The death of a student is news that no one wants to hear. Unfortunately, for schools and college campuses everywhere a student passing away is often a reality that has to be faced.
Cyclones Forever is a website featuring an online memorial honoring students who pass away and resources for families, students, faculty and staff coping with loss. The website launched July 1, but was a year-long process.
The idea for the site started with Megan Van Heiden, senior assistant director for Student Assistance, as a possibility for her year-long project for the Student Affairs Leadership Institute.
“Last summer I was going through my own professional development and goals that I wanted to accomplish,” Van Heiden said. “I had been at institutions prior to coming to Iowa State that had different forms of honoring students that they lose... and that was something that I noticed Iowa State didn’t have, is something to honor and remember students. So that was a personal goal of mine that I wanted to create.”
Van Heiden was unsure of what forum would best suit Iowa State’s needs, then started breaking down different options for the memorial with Martino Harmon, senior vice president for Student Affairs, and Vernon Hurte, dean of students. Eventually they decided that “an online memorial or a website that would be a good place to start.”
Iowa State’s need for a way to honor students was also recognized by the Emerging Leaders Academy, faculty and staff who take part in a year-long leadership training program. Together, Van Heidan and the Emerging Leaders reached out to Jenny Pollard, communications and program coordinator for Student Affairs, who worked with students who designed and created the site.
“They [Van Heiden and the Emerging Leaders] just wanted [the website] to look different,” Pollard said about creating the design for Cyclones Forever. “They didn’t want it to look just like any informational site, 'cause really the site was developed to be a place to just honor students. So we tried to think about, ‘What are elements of campus that are still Iowa State but can kind of have a softer feel?’ Just because it’s such a sensitive topic and it was for condolence and empathy, and those are the things we didn’t feel like putting the university logo [on]. So we tried to look for [those] aspects on campus: The white flowers are magnolias, which are the flowers that bloom on campus in the spring; We are the Cyclones, and our mascot is Cy, which is a cardinal. So we put the red bird — the cardinal — in the tree, something you would actually see in the spring. And it was a nice way to represent or have an aesthetic on a site that was maybe more inclusive and representative to all.”
One of the main concerns for the website was that it should honor all students equally, no matter their impact on campus.
“Some students may have a lot of presence here on campus, like we saw when we lost a student athlete [Celia Barquin Arozamena],” Pollard said. “Some people might be really well known across campus and some students might not be. It’s really important for us that we have consistency in that, so the university doesn’t actually hold a vigil or those kind of components. [Cyclones Forever] was a tool for us to be really able to fill some of those needs we saw out there so that students who might not be as visible on campus have the same sort of acknowledgement from the university as someone who maybe did.”
Along with remembering the students, Cyclones Forever is designed to support and supply resources to help those affected cope with grief.
“I think everyone grieves very differently, and so trying to create a central place to honor and remember while also offering resources and support [for] grief for whoever that may impact [was important],” Van Heiden said on the purpose of the site. “Whether it’s students, whether it’s staff or faculty — whoever may be impacted by that. [We're] just offering a place of support and letting folks know what is available on campus in terms of resources to help them feel supported through that grief.”
Student Assistance handles the death notification process, which includes informing people on campus, as well as working directly with the family to provide support. Included now with Cyclones Forever will be informing the family about the online memorial.
“In talking with families, we’ll share information about the website, and tell them that we have this online space to honor their student and if they want to add additional information they’re welcome to,” Van Heiden said. “And so they have the option to add a photo or any additional information that they want to. We really don’t filter that, and that part is optional. And of course if we were to ever hear from a family that they would want us to remove the student from the website we’d absolutely honor that and do that immediately.”
Student Assistance will otherwise always automatically upload the student’s name, college, major and dates of attendance. The memorial will contain students in any fall, spring or summer term that pass away from July 1, 2019, when the website was launched, and onward.
The Cyclones Forever website can be found at https://cyclonesforever.iastate.edu/memorial/. If a student is missing from the memorial, anyone can email Student Assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 515-294-1020.