Georgia Southern University senior Leigh Sundem is a chemistry major with a 4.0 GPA. She has won numerous awards in organic chemistry research at GSU, and last fall she scored higher than 99 percent of the nation’s students who took the Medical College Admissions Test.
Sundem also is a recovering heroin addict.
“At 18, I was sentenced to seven years in prison for robbery and assault,” she said. “Paroled at 21, I continued my alcohol and drug use until an understanding judge gave me the choice of going back to prison or entering long-term treatment.”
After completing 19 months of treatment, Sundem sought out the assistance of the Center for Addiction Recovery at Georgia Southern. With the Center’s help, she was able to enroll at GSU, where she said she found a place to belong.
“I was accepted because there was a supportive collegiate recovery community in place and a safe and nurturing program,” Sundem said.
The Center for Addiction Recovery in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at GSU serves students recovering from substance-use disorders.
Today, substance-use disorders are widely considered the nation’s number one public health problem, and, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, almost half of the disorder’s treatment admissions are 18-24 year olds. Statistics show more than 159,000 college freshmen in the U.S. drop out of school due to alcohol and drug abuse every year. Experts say those who do find sobriety are hard-pressed to find structured addiction recovery support on a college campus — an environment notorious for its binge drinking culture.
Based on the highly effective Collegiate Recovery Communities model developed by Texas Tech University, Georgia Southern created its own Collegiate Recovery Community and its goal according to school officials is to provide an environment in which sobriety can flourish.
GSU’s Community offers a variety of seminars, group counseling sessions, social events, facilities for 12-step meetings and community outreach programs that focus on relapse-prevention, recovery through service-learning, and peer mentoring.
And statistics prove the program is working.
Since its inception in 2008, Georgia Southern’s Center has quickly become one the most successful centers of its kind. Currently serving 35 participants, the average institutional GPA of the Center students for the Fall 2011 semester was 3.69, a figure that has consistently hovered around a 3.7 since the Center opened its doors.
Emily Eisenhart Moore, the director of the Center for Addiction Recovery said, “The numbers tell a compelling story. When considering that the average GSU student’s GPA is a 2.7, the fact that the Center students’ average GPA has remained this high consistently is evidence in itself of our success.”
Another figure that bucks the trend is that 98 percent of Recovery Community students have remained in college and graduated from Georgia Southern. This data compares to the nation’s overall 58 percent college graduation rate.
The Willingway Foundation, a Statesboro non-profit organization that advocates for and supports recovery projects worldwide, donates more than $90,000 annually to support the Center’s day-to-day operational costs. More than $16,000 is designated for student service awards, which act as scholarships for Recovery Community students who have demonstrated an excellence in academics, recovery activities and service.
Sundem said being part of GSU’s Collegiate Recovery Community has made a deep impact on her and has been sober for more than four years.
“I am applying to medical school because I would like to help those who are medically underserved,” she said. “That would be one way I could help pay back all that has been given to me.”
Sundem is just one of Georgia Southern’s many successful Recovery Community students.
“These students inspire and amaze me every single day,” Moore said. “The CRC students are such a testament as to what people are capable of when given the opportunity to succeed. I hope that other universities begin to recognize there is a need for Centers like ours on every campus across the U.S.”