SAU students play online game for a chance to win scholarship money

By Crisilee DeBacker

Don’t try to contact Will Sanders, Andrew Depoy or Canyon Smith on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m., because they will be working hard to win $5,000 in scholarship money. How? A not-so-little online game called “Hearthstone.”

Based on the hit game, “World of Warcraft,” it is an online fantasy card game with minions, spells and heroes.

“You have a hero that has thirty health and your opponent has a hero…and the first one to get their opponent’s [hero] down to zero wins the game,” Sanders said, describing the basic premise of the game. Depoy and Smith were familiar with the game, having played it before, so when Sanders approached them with a proposition of them teaming up for the Hearthstone Championship Tour, they agreed.

A screenshot from the game. Photo provided by

The basic guidelines of the tournament are as follows: there must be three people per team, and teams are randomly matched to play against each other once a week for a span of seven weeks. The teams that accumulate a minimum of five wins and two losses by the end of the seven weeks will move on to the regional playoffs, around 15 teams of the original 300, and the top teams of playoffs in each region (North, South, East, or West) will be given the opportunity to play in the finals, traveling to a yet-to-be-determined location—most likely California, since that is where the finals were held last year.

Now, five weeks in to the seven-week tournament, they have a record of four wins and one loss. They have already played matches against Purdue and Michigan that seven to eight thousand people tuned in to watch over the livestream.

“I had no idea it was this big of a tournament,” Depoy said. Although playing for thousands of people seems like it would put the pressure on, Sanders, Depoy and Smith have not let it get to them yet.

“It feels the same, but we have a webcam shot onto us,” Sanders said. “You’re just thinking about, ‘oh, the whole time they’re just talking about how bad some of our plays are,’” he said regarding the commentators of the streamed matches.

They have two more matches left, and if they win one, they will officially move forward in the tournament. Although this is an online game, there is still a lot of ways to prepare.

“Deck building is super important,” Sanders said. Each team brings four decks and is able to choose what cards are in each deck. Once a team wins with one deck, that deck cannot be used again.

“If you have one bad deck, that holds everything back,” Sanders said. “There’s a lot of…strategizing that goes into that.”

When deck building, the team has to take into account what they think their opponents will bring, so they want to pick cards that are hard to beat. It is more of a strategy game than anything else, so preparation is an important factor.

The grand prize of the tournament is $5,000 in scholarship money per team member, but there are smaller cash prizes for the other finalists, the last being $500 for eighth place.

“Going to California for free and getting five hundred bucks doesn’t sound too bad,” Depoy said.

Here She Belongs: Alumna Returns to SAU as Lowell RD

By Caralyn Geyer

Lowell Hall is one of three female residence halls on Spring Arbor University’s (SAU) main campus. Built in 1970, it is known for zero air conditioning and a lobby that routinely smells like burnt popcorn. Lowell houses nearly three-hundred girls every year, each of whom are learning to live in community more and more each day. As of 2017, the Hall has undergone a leadership change by gaining a new Resident Director (RD). This year, Hannah Sinkovitz has succeeded the former RD, Kelly McGraw. This is Sinkovitz’s first year being an RD and says she has big plans for Lowell Hall this year, and for the many years to come.

Sinkovitz is an SAU and Indiana Wesleyan Universtiy (IWU) alumna. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree at Spring Arbor, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Global Missions, and then proceeded to continue her Psychology education by gaining a Masters in Clinical Health from IWU. During her time as a student at SAU, Sinkovitz played on the soccer team. At IWU, Sinkovitz continued her soccer career as a coach, which helped to pay for some of her Master’s schooling. This time is also when she and her husband, Jake, began to gain experience in the field of being an RD. During their years at IWU, Jake was an RD for a men’s dorm, so Sinkovitz got to live with and experience everyday RD life first-hand. After finishing her Master’s program, Sinkovitz moved her family back to SAU, this time to work as an RD herself.

Hannah with her husband, Jake, and son Leo. From Facebook.

“It’s surreal to be back,” Sinkovitz said. “It’s definitely sooner than we thought, but it was always a dream for us to come back. We have relationships here and plan to invest here for a long time.”

Starting this year, and for the years to come, Sinkovitz hopes to make Lowell known for being a welcoming and safe place. She believes in making a residence hall somewhere students can deal with the uncertainties of life that college brings, including figuring out where one is going, learning how to live and preparing for the outside world. Sinkovitz’s main hope for her dorm is that it would be a place to belong. Part of Lowell lobby’s decorations are three painted pictures with the words, “Here We Belong.” These signs represent her hope that residence life will be a place to call home, a place to reside and grow alongside other women through these years of learning.

“College is a unique time,” Sinkovitz said. “It should be a time where we can let our guard down and give grace where it is needed the most.”

Sinkovitz has been learning alongside Lowell residence this year as students enter the new school year and as she starts her first RD job. Already, Sinkovitz says she has “learned a lot about herself and how people interact, how to deal with ‘spur-the-moment’ occasions and especially about having grace and patience.”

In the end, everyone is learning how to create his or her own “Here We Belong” space, whether it is senior year, freshman year or the first year on the job. This year, Sinkovitz wishes that, if nothing else, Lowell Hall can hold this meaning for all of its residents. A place where everyone comes as stranger, leaves as friends and knows that it is “Here We Belong.”

Stats and Facts

Harry Potter?: All the way, and she’s in Gryffindor house

Favorite TV Shows: Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Rec and New Girl

Favorite movie: Currently Moana, because of her 18-month-old, Leo (go ahead and give him a highfive if you see him!)

Favorite drinks: Loves coffee with chocolate and sugar and is a fan of the Pumpkin Spice trend

Favorite memories from SAU soccer: team bonding trips to Puerto Rico and Hawaii, as well as team service projects.

Home Sweet Home: Her favorite place where she stayed on campus as a student was Delta 3

Adventures Across the Pond: My Study Abroad to Oxford University

By Lily O’Connor

Last spring, I had the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford for a semester.  While there, I was able to travel to numerous countries, and see lots of amazing things.  Here, you’ll also be able to travel to the places I did, as I share some of the highlights of my trip!

Home Sweet Home

Photo by Cathryn Lien

This is the Vines.  I lived here for the three-and-a-half months at I was in Oxford, along with 33 other students from the United States.

An Oxford Library

Photo by Natalie Seale

This beautiful building is the Radcliffe Camera, one of the many libraries that grace the city of Oxford. I spent many hours in this library reading historical texts and working on essays.

Buckingham Palace

Photo by Cathryn Lien

Here we see the official residence of the queen: Buckingham Palace.  It’s always been a dream of mine to see this place, so I was thrilled when I got to go not once, but twice!  Unfortunately, I was unable to go inside, but there’s always next time.

A Day Trip to Wales

Photo by Lily O’Connor

One of the places I got to visit was Cardiff, Wales.  We took a train from Oxford and spend the day exploring city centre, Cardiff Castle and the bay area.  I loved getting to see the history of this place, and experience a culture that was similar to England but still quite different as well.


Photo by Lily O’Connor

I was also thrilled that we got to go to Stonehenge.  Even though I was told not to get too excited, since it was just a “pile of rocks,” it was so cool to see and to imagine how people over 1,000 years ago managed to stack the rocks like they did.  It was also fun to hear the different theories about why Stonehenge exists.


Photo by Lily O’Connor

During my Mid-Term break, some friends and I traveled to Poland for three days.  We explored Warsaw and Krakow, looking at the old architecture and exploring the Jewish quarters.  We also spent a day touring Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was incredibly emotional, but I learned so much about the people who died there and the impact the camps had on Poland.  As a history major, and even more so as a human being, I was shaken as I stood in the same place thousands of people died and tried to imagine what it must have felt like then.

La Sagrada Família

Photo by Christine Murphy

On a lighter note, after exploring Poland, I traveled to Barcelona to finish out my Mid-Term break.  While there, I got to see La Sagrada Família, which is a Gaudi-designed basilica.  It has been under construction for about 100 years, but as the detail is so intricate, it is easy to understand why!  We also look at some other Gaudi buildings, walked along La Rambla,and stuck our feet in the Mediterranean Sea.  I definitely felt like I was in the Ed Sheeran song while here.

The City of Bath

Photo by Lily O’Connor

While studying at Oxford, we went on class field trips to different cities throughout England.  One of these cities was Bath, which is appropriately named due to it being the home of the Roman Baths.  While the water does not look very appealing, it was amazing to visit a place the Romans once used.

The Coventry Cathedral

Photo by Lily O’Connor

This is the Coventry Cathedral, in the city of Coventry.  The city had been heavily bombed during WWII, and was mostly destroyed, including the cathedral on the left.  All that remained of the original cathedral were the walls and the altar.  They eventually rebuilt the cathedral, seen on the right, and host daily ceremonies to remind people about what happened in Coventry, to show the power of forgiveness and to pray that something like this never occurs somewhere else again.


Photo by Meghan Hui

As a huge Harry Potter fan, I couldn’t not explore one of the most iconic places: Hogwarts!  Now, I didn’t get to visit Warner Brothers’ Studios, but I did get to visit something just as good, Christ Church College.  This is where the Great Hall is based on, and where the staircases that lead to the Great Hall are located, as seen above.  These staircases are easily visible in the first movie, which always gives me a sense of happiness and nostalgia every time I watch the films.

All Things London

Photo by Lily O’Connor

Last but not least, is this photo from London.  It is so quintessentially British that I would be a fool not to include it!  You have Big Ben’s tower, the London Eye, a black cab, and a red double-decker bus all in one shot.  I loved getting to explore London, and I had the opportunity to spend my last day in England exploring this amazing city.  I spent hours inside the Tower of London, walked across Tower Bridge, saw Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, walked through Trafalgar Square and ended the night by seeing Les Misérables live on the West End.  I was so sad to leave this beautiful place, but I can’t wait to go back and see everything once more!  I love England so much and it will always have a very special place in my heart.


If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about my semester abroad, you can read my blog,

Power temporarily rerouted after fire at Power Plant

By Crisilee DeBacker

The students of Spring Arbor University (SAU) were thrown into the dark on September 23 after a fire broke out at the nearby physical plant late at night. Both Andrews and Gainey Hall lost power, and the clock tower lost power long enough to be behind by a few hours until it was fixed after a couple days.

Marty Fortress, the head of the physical plant, was able to shed light on what caused the confusion.

“Although the cause of the fire is still being determined by the insurance company, it appears as though the fire began in a transformer,” Fortress said.

Along with the power outages on campus, two generators that were burned during the fire were confirmed to be damaged beyond repair by the insurance company when they assessed the damage on Oct. 10. A few smaller pumps in different buildings also needed repairs due to the surge of power that happened during the fire.

Currently, nothing has been fixed permanently. Cables were rerouted to get power back up to the main campus, but the physical plant is still working through the next steps.

The physical plant is in the process of getting temporary generators to campus until permanent new ones are available. There is currently a 12-16 week waiting period for new generators, due to a shortage caused by the needs of the victims of the hurricanes in Houston and Florida.

In the meantime, workers are keeping things on campus going as smoothly as possible. The rerouted cables and temporary generators will provide power until permanent solutions can be made.

New Campus Safety Specialist Arrives at SAU

By Kayla Kilgore

They walk around campus wearing proudly their blue and black uniforms with a yellow stripe across their hearts. They protect students from harm, are on call for emergencies and enforce parking regulations. They are the campus safety officers. Only a handful of souls brave this career path at Spring Arbor University (SAU), and one of them goes by the name Peter Breckner.

Breckner joined the SAU force this year as a Campus Safety Specialist. He is the head over parking regulations, students of Campus Safety and reporting information directly to the Director of Campus Safety.

Peter Breckner
Peter Breckner and his wife, Laura. From Facebook.

Before coming to SAU, Breckner worked at Davenport University. Davenport is about two hours away from SAU, where his wife Laura Breckner works in the Student Success and Calling Center on campus. The position at SAU offered him better hours and an administrative role and higher position than his previous job. It also allowed him to be closer to his wife. Now, the couple’s offices are across the hall from each other, which allows them to enjoy lunch together.

Breckner said he is excited about is the opportunity to incorporate his faith into his new career as a Campus Safety Specialist. He said his faith was not encouraged in his past positions, and SAU has provided for him a unique platform to share his beliefs with faculty and students alike. Now that Breckner works on a campus where his faith is encouraged, he says he is awaiting the opportunity to share his testimony to better the lives of those he encounters.


Stats and Facts:

Hobbies: swimming, biking, relaxing on the lake

Off the job: He volunteers as a Reserve Sheriff Deputy for his local county over summers and weekends


Around the World in 64 Days

By Celeste Fendt

Over the summer, several Spring Arbor University (SAU) professors traveled abroad to reconnect with old acquaintances, enhance their knowledge of foreign cultures and prepare for future cross-cultural trips for students. Here are a few of their stories.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan

Tears welled in her dark brown eyes as she recalled reuniting with the friends she had not seen in over 30 years.

“I was so pleased, so surprised by the fact that they were so happy to host me,” Inna Molitoris, lecturer for the Gainey School of Business, said.

Molitoris was born in Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Ukraine. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, her family was forced to immigrate to Russia. This summer, after receiving a grant from the International Initiatives Committee of Spring Arbor University, she spent three weeks returning to the countries where she was raised.

Inna Molitoris (right) at the conference in Kyrgyzstan. Photo provided by Molitoris.

The Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian cultures changed significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union. From diversity to new technologies, Molitoris was curious to see how these countries have evolved in the nearly 30 years since the collapse. She came up with two goals to guide her research: to explore the local business culture and see if it could be productive for American people to develop relationships there and to explore how Christians in Kyrgyzstan are perceived by Muslims.

“I found that [in Kyrgyzstan] there is a very welcoming culture,” Molitoris said. “I spoke to Christians about how they feel in this country and they said ‘wonderful.’”

Looking back on the Soviet Union’s anti-religious campaigns in the 1920s-40s, this reflects a significant change.

Molitoris attended a three-day international conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, that addressed some of these issues regarding globalization. One of her favorite memories from the trip was realizing that her college roommate was a key speaker at the conference.


Randy Lewis, Professor of Finance, traveled to Cuba this summer along with two other SAU faculty and 18 students. Lewis will be the lead faculty for the Cuba cross-cultural trip beginning in January of 2019.  Professors Paul Nemecek and Terry Darling mentored Lewis during the trip in order to train him for the new position.

A view in Cuba. Photo provided by Randy Lewis.

Cuba is a communist country that was closed to travel from the United States from January 1961 until July 2015. Despite this, Lewis said the group always felt safe there and the people were friendly and hospitable. During their three-week trip, they stayed in homes with families designated by the government.

During their stay, the cross-cultural group traveled to five different cities, including Havana, Cuba’s capital. They visited museums, beaches and the United States Embassy and got a first-hand experience of what the culture there is like.

“The nature was just gorgeous there,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of beautiful flowers and beaches.”

He recommends the trip to students of any major, since the country’s openness to U.S. travel provides what might be a short-lived window. A knowledge of the Spanish language is not necessary to participate.

“It’s a fantastic trip… and it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Lewis said.


SAU’s Guatemala cross cultural and semester abroad programs take place at what is known as “Cambio,” an SAU location where students take the classes required for their trips. Professor Kim Bowen visited the Cambio site this summer for a few different reasons.

On his first trip to Guatemala, Bowen’s goal was to learn about the program and how students are taught there. His second trip focused on establishing relationships with the Spanish instructors working there. This year, on his third visit, Bowen went to train the instructors and interact with them through workshops.

Kim Bowen (second from left) in Guatemala with a group. Photo provided by Bowen.

Spanish majors and minors are required to take certain classes abroad, so the staff received updated syllabi for each of the courses offered. They also worked with Bowen on different workshops regarding teaching.

Because the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recently updated their requirements for the preparation of world language teachers, Bowen also brought details of new policies. The staff at Cambio needed to be informed of these changes before the next group of students arrived to study there.

Bowen said that the Guatemala trip is a must for Spanish majors and minors at SAU, because studying abroad provides students with an “intensive immersion” that cannot be replicated anyplace where the native language is not Spanish.

While in Guatemala, students also have the chance to volunteer at local elementary schools and clinics in the area. Similarly to the Cuba trip and other cross-culturals, students stay in the homes of host families while in country.

“[This trip] will open students’ eyes and hearts to the Latin cultures and the Latin people,” Bowen said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

Squirrels and Spiritual Life: SAU’s New Biology Professor Katie Weakland

By Grace Archer

Spring Arbor University’s (SAU) newest associate professor of biology Cathy (Katie) Weakland has arrived, bringing with her an enthusiasm for both spiritual life and the campus squirrels.

While serving as a professor at Bethel College in Indiana, Weakland was involved in projects like landscape ecology, studying owls and fox squirrels. She often spent her class periods trapping and tagging the squirrels to find the density of their species on campus. She also spent time incorporating discipleship into her lessons and participating spiritually in the campus.

“I was involved in the spiritual atmosphere and I loved going to chapel,” Weakland said. “In fact, I went to every single one.”

Katie Weakland. From Facebook.

After teaching at Bethel College for ten years, she decided to take a break from teaching and follow God’s call for her life in Tajikistan, where she lived for three and a half years. Eventually, she found and joined a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), researching and proposing projects to raise funds for the group.

“I always wanted to live overseas and learn a new culture and language,” Weakland said.

Although Weakland spent a great deal of time overseas and away from home, she had always taken an interest in Michigan. In her time at Bethel College, she often took camping trips up to Michigan on the weekends as a getaway.

One thing that attracted Weakland to the task of teaching at SAU was the spirituality on campus.

“I appreciate a campus that has chapel,” Weakland said. “I love that I can talk about Jesus in class and do devotions all while incorporating science and research.”

Weakland is excited to teach Environmental Science. In it, she hopes to expand on views of evolution and creationism and other diverse views on that topic. She wants to look at what Scripture says about evolution as well as ideas outside of Christianity and compare the two.

“I see God’s fingerprints all over creation and I encourage students to take a step back (from) what they’re observing and stand in awe of it,” Weakland said. “Creation is how God reveals himself to us.”


Stats and Facts:

According to her: The owls she studied at Bethel sounded like “women screaming.” Sounds spooky.

Not her first time in the state: While at Bethel, she took weekend camping trips up to Michigan as a getaway.

A goal as a teacher: to challenge students as image bearers and stewards of creation and their responsibilities as followers of Christ.

“A Meeting in Munich” Review

By Elise Emmert

I went to “Meeting in Munich” by Paul Patton knowing only that it was a discussion between church members about whether or not they should listen to the Fuhrer and reform their youth groups to Hitler Youth. But it was so much more than that.

Elizabeth Pence and Logan Thorne. Photo by Alexis Hall.

There was more at stake in the church in Munich than the fate of their youth group. It’s a boiling point where congregants on both sides of the issue come together and clash, fighting each other on which outlook, which way of living, is objectively right.


I watched friends in period clothing, some pleading with others for the right to raise their children in the church without the state as their watchdog, and others in SS uniforms with swastika bands around their arms raising their hands to perform the Hitler salute and commending the Fuhrer for his dedication to building Germany up on the church.

These actors sat among the audience members, and it made the conflict and history feel so much more present than it does when reading a textbook about what led to the second world war and the horrors that happened in Germany. The actors walked beside my chair and cried out their beliefs at each other, dealing with core values that would make or break Germany’s future in WWII. They have no idea what’s coming.

And it made me sob.

old lady and austin
Faith Dever and Austin Slater. Photo by Alexis Hall.

I cried for the fact that this happened – that anti-Semitic sentiments were rationalized, that a country was so torn and desperate that something like Nazism could rear its ugly head, that so many people lost their lives in such horrible ways because of hate and the belief that Hitler had the plan to make everything right again, to bring the country back to its former glory.

It’s difficult to identify the most heart-wrenching moment in the play, but one in particular rises above the many: when Margaret Lubosch (played by Erin Couch) says the hate being spread will put rocks in the hands of the children. In response to the Hitler supporters’ laughter, she asks her young daughter, Eva (played by Emma Brugger), to tell the congregation what has been happening at school. And Eva, in a trembling voice, rattles off the names of children in the class who aren’t allowed to talk to the others, who are pulled to the front of class and ridiculed for their mistakes, and who are afraid to go to recess because they are being spit on.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Confederate flag posters with cotton buds were posted around the American University campus last week. The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which many state leaders condemned as a “white supremacist” meeting, ended with one civilian killed and many others injured. An improvised explosive device was set off at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota.

tearful goodbye
A tearful goodbye. Photo by Alexis Hall.

Hate is festering, and people are acting on it. It could lead us down a very dangerous path if we choose to forget how situations can escalate from a small spark to an engulfing blaze if they are not stopped before they run beyond control.


It’s easy for us to look back on history and say we would have been on the right side; we would have stood for justice even in the face of death. But history is not simply the past. It is our present. Every second that passes becomes the history that our children and grandchildren will read about. If we do not do something about this hate, future generations may have the opportunity to ask of us: Why didn’t they do something? Didn’t they know that was wrong?

I have heard it said that theater is not done to make us forget or escape the world outside, but to help us remember it. In “Meeting in Munich,” we remember the past – we remember the hatred and divisiveness that tore apart this church and its country – but we also remember the present. And I weep for both.

Education professor and basketball coach: John M. Williams IV

By Crisilee DeBacker

To a Spring Arbor University (SAU) student, the name “John Williams” could mean two things: “Associate Professor of Education” John Williams Jr (also known as Biggs), or “that guy who composed the Star Wars soundtrack” John Williams. Now, there is a third.

John M. Williams IV fills three roles at SAU. He is the Coordinator of Elementary Education, an Assistant Professor of Education and the Assistant Womens Basketball Coach. Despite not wanting to come to SAU at first, he says he is a proud SAU alumnus.

“It was just a good, safe, familiar place,” he said, concerning why he finally committed to SAU.

During his time at SAU, he studied music, pre-med and elementary education and played on the soccer team for two seasons. After he completed his undergraduate program, he continued studying at SAU, and went on to get his master’s in education and then a post-graduate certification in K-12 administration. After he was certified, he worked seven years as an elementary school principal.

Williams IV and his wife, Carrie. From Facebook.

“Being an elementary school principal, there’s always something crazy going on,” he said.

He also coached basketball, and worked with the same girls from fifth grade on. Seeing them grow and improve as high schoolers was something he said he loved, especially since one of his players is now a freshman here at SAU and is serving alongside him as the manager of the womens basketball team.

Williams briefly taught math and science classes before he was a principal. When he was a principal, he evaluated teachers regularly, so to him, evaluating students in class is not much different.

Williams’ faith is something he strives to model to his students. He begins every class with a time for prayer requests and a short devotional, and concentrates on being a good example for his students and living “unapologetically Christian.”

“Before talking about prayer, you have to live and model faith first,” he said.

He also focuses on faith outside of the classroom by taking it to the basketball court. Currently, the whole basketball team is reading the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff. He says it is a great example of putting both faith and love into action and illustrates the message, “don’t be afraid to love extravagantly.”

Through both the teaching and the modeling of faith, Williams hopes to influence his students for their future.

“I’m making them prepared before they’re on their own,” he said.


Stats and Facts:

Hogwarts House: Gryffindor

Favorite TV shows: Stranger Things, Longwire and Madame Secretary

Favorite classes to teach: “Math and Science Methods for Upper Elementary and Middle School Teachers” and “Effective Classroom Management Assessment and Instruction”

Fun Fact: When he was a principal, he let students duct tape him to a wall to raise money for a local child with cancer.

He’s Not Done Yet: He’s currently in a doctorate program with Trevecca Nazarene University.

If you didn’t already know: He’s married to Carrie Williams, the director of student success and first year programming at SAU.

Phishing emails continue to test SAU cyber security

By Kayla Williamson

Every morning, Chief Information Officer Chris Blackstone runs a report that pulls a list of all email accounts that have forwarding rules set up. He then looks at the name of each email account that is forwarded for any clue it might be a fake email.

“The challenge with all this is that it’s kind of like a dam that’s cracking and trying to put your finger in the holes,” Blackstone said. “It’s kind of like playing whack-a-mole.”

On July 31, the first of many phishing emails were sent to hundreds of Spring Arbor University (SAU) students. Over 200 accounts were compromised in this phishing attack. Emails varied from fake Dropbox links, warnings your email is going to be disabled and alerts that an account is over its email quota.

Although these kinds of scams are common with other schools using Microsoft systems, there is not much anyone can do to prevent or to protect against the attacks once they start and have compromised an account. So far the Information Services team has spent over 300 hours trying to fix the problem.

“It’s consumed my August,” Blackstone said. “It’s pretty much all that I’ve been working on in August. I was on vacation and got pulled back into doing stuff. It’s been quite an ordeal.”


Unlike hacking, phishing emails do not have access to users’ information unless the users give it away.

Blackstone said it is different from a hack because people give their information willingly, whereas in a hack someone penetrated the network to find information.

Once the phishing source has a student’s information, he or she has access to all of the student’s records. A student’s username and email are just as valuable as a social security number, Blackstone said. But since these attacks were random, no account changes have been reported. But this summer there have been reports of students not receiving financial aid information and faculty not receiving emails for five days.

This is why Blackstone runs a manual report on all email accounts with forwarding rules. Attacks have forwarded emails from an account to a fake email. After 22 accounts were reported not receiving emails, that was the point when Blackstone said they had the potential for significant damage.

The solution: a password reset.

On August 25, all students, alumni and adjunct instructors had to reset their passwords. Since the password reset, there have been less attacks.

“The frustration to me now that we are working hard to lock our stuff down, it’s how many other organizations aren’t,” Blackstone said.

While SAU may be strengthening its own cyber security, a network is only as strong as its weakest link. Groups SAU partners with, like BankMobile, NAIA, Tree of Life and more, can be weak points in the security depending on their own IT precautions.

Blackstone has already reached out to the NAIA and the Commissioner of the Crossroads League because SAU accounts marked emails from them as spam because their system was not configured correctly. After Blackstone reached out to their IT team, the problem was fixed within a day.

While attacks may be slowing down, Blackstone still encourages students, faculty and staff to never click on links or give out login information unless it is through the portal. Because of these attacks, Information Services has updated the portal login. Instead of a pop up asking for a username and password, the portal opens a new login screen with the clock tower on it.

“Knock on wood, we’re seeing fewer of [the email attacks],” Blackstone said. “I think we’ve got greater security in place. Once we turn on the next step of the security, I think that will additionally help keep stuff out.”