ASU-SPARK Talks Suicide Prevention


Nestled on the second floor in the Eunice Powell Building is ASU-SPARK (Alcorn State University-Suicide Prevention Awareness and Reach through Kognito/Knowledge) which is designed to listen and assist the community of Alcorn.

The ASU-SPARK program is an outcome of a personal tragedy that took place in the life of Senenator Gordon H. Smith from Oregon. Senator Smith lost his son Garrett Lee Smith to suicide a day before his 22nd birthday in 2003. Garrett, who struggled with learning disabilities, also suffered from depression. Senator Smith regrets possibly missing the warning signs that his son may have demonstrated before the tragedy occurred. He took this personal tragedy to draft the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) to screen children and detect those predisposed to depression, suicide, and also to allocate funds to combat suicide at colleges. The Act was unanimously approved with amendments that only those students whose parents permitted would be screened. In 2004 President George W. Bush signed the GLS Memorial Act into a law and legislation to provide federal funding for youth suicide prevention programs.

Suicide is the second leading cause for death in college students and there is no single cause for suicide. Factors that contribute to suicide are mental illness, family history, alcohol and substance abuse, feelings of isolation, personal tragedy and stigma. Often signs in talk, behavior and mood of a person can signal psychological distress which may lead to depression. Depression is the cardinal cause for suicide. Suicide prevention programs are being implemented in many college campuses.

Alcorn State is one of the 59 campuses making efforts in suicide prevention. The ASU-SPARK program which was launched in 2013 is striving to train faculty, staff and students to bring awareness about suicide prevention through Kognito by at-risk training and healthy messaging. So far about 1,241 students have completed the Kognito training. ASU-SPARK is also delivering a free online health magazine which covers topics of health and wellness for the Alcorn community. The readership of the student health magazine is 3,875 which includes faculty, staff and students.

Suicide prevention is a collective responsibility. Hence, ASU-SPARK is urging all members of the Alcorn Community to complete the free 40 minute online interactive Kognito course  designed for suicide prevention and mental health training. The training comprises simulations structured as virtual practice engagements where users engage in conversations with virtual student avatars that exhibit signs of psychological distress and suicidal ideas. The Kognito course can be accessed  by going to The password for students is alcorn877 and for faculty it’s alcorn601.

It is hoped that all staff, and faculty, and campus leaders would take advantage of this opportunity as their service to Alcorn students is very useful. With this training they will be able to 1) recognize the common indicators of psychological distress in students and 2) approach an at-risk student for referral to Alcorn’s counseling service.

Counseling Services are offered on the third floor in the Walter Washington Administration Building (WWAB) between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, Monday through Thursday and 8:00 am to 4:00 pm on Fridays. You can also make an appointment by calling (601) 877-6230. 

For further information about the SPARK program contact Dr. Martha Ravola, Program Director at (601) 877-4717 or or Ms. Tiffany Smith, Research Associate at (601) 877-3967 or According to Dr. Ravola, “Student’s mental health and academic success are interrelated. Student’s mental health affects their academic performance which in turn affects the student’s mental health. This is the reason why addressing student mental health and well being is critical for Alcorn State University.”