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New health and well-being initiatives proposed to board of trustees

Photo credit Joshua Bruer | Staff Photographer

Associate Provost of Academic Success Melissa Sturm-Smith, Director of Counseling Kayla Bell-Consolver and Jerry Parker, Dean of Students, laid out a roadmap to improve students’ mental and physical well-being during a recent Drake University Board of Trustees meeting. 

Sturm-Smith said she explained areas where Drake could improve their services for students and new initiatives Drake is working on during the meeting on Jan. 14. 

“What are ways that we can continue to expand our services, we can focus on support and really make this a place where students feel that they’re supported in their mental health and well-being?” Sturm-Smith said she asked the board while presenting the topic. 

Sturm-Smith outlined new initiatives she hopes to see incorporated at Drake. Sturm-Smith is the authority when it comes to initiatives at Drake that are related to retention, and she hopes to increase access to mental health resources for all students. 

Sturm-Smith said there are many ways to support student health and well-being aside from the counseling center. One of the new supports that she hopes to focus on is an artificial intelligence chatbot feature which can offer a series of personalized resources for students based on how they answer. 

“The chatbot keeps getting smarter and smarter as it talks to more students. It’s anonymous.
The students don’t have to reveal who they are,” Sturm-Smith said. “And then it generates a list of specialized resources for them on that campus.” 

Another new tool is a possible bridge program for new and incoming students at Drake that assesses students’ mental well-being and creates specialized models to help them improve. 

“[Mindview] looks at stuff like grit, hope, self-compassion, really good stuff, like trying to build resilience and well-being,” Sturm-Smith said. “So [we are] thinking about something like that, and being able to offer it to students, potentially before they even come to Drake.”

As of 2022, Drake has already outgrown its counseling and health center and is in the process of building a new clinic to better serve the university and surrounding community. 

“Focusing on student health and well-being can really be a strategic advantage for Drake,” Sturm-Smith said.  

According to Drake counselor Kayla Bell-Consolver, there has been an “influx in student mental health concerns,” while at the same time, awareness of mental health is increasing across the nation. 

Approximately 2,332 counseling sessions were conducted last year at the Drake counseling center, which is an approximately 29 percent increase from the 1,660 sessions conducted during the 2018-2019 academic year. 

“We were seeing increasing levels of depression and anxiety amongst incoming college students,” Sturm-Smith said. “And then, as you can imagine, the pandemic [exacerbated], you know, isolation, loneliness, you know, economic pressures, all of those things.”

In terms of recruitment, Sturm-Smith outlined how increasing student support can help keep students returning to Drake each semester.

“Students and their families are asking about supports before they even come to an institution,” Sturm-Smith said. “They want to know about counseling support, they want to know about, you know, recreational services, they want to know about spirituality resources, like, what are all the things your institution has in place to support my student’s wellbeing?”

Another feature that is gaining more support is Mental Health First Aid, which trains students and faculty to recognize signs of mental distress and direct people towards the appropriate resources. This is a nationally recognized program and requires eight hours of training to become certified.

“It’s more passive and active… the bulk of our first aid is about de-escalation, affirmation and then calling somebody who can actually deal with this problem,” said Madeleine Leigh, a senior who is certified in Mental Health First Aid. 

A more student-based initiative targeting under-represented groups is First Gen Bulldogs, a community specifically for first-generation college students. Sophomore Erica Sawyer founded the organization last semester. 

“It felt amazing to see the excitement from first-gen students to have an org for us,” Sawyer said in a text message.

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