A bold vision to re-imagine the residential experience | VTx
In an article titled Why Higher Education Should Lead the Wellness Revolution, co-authors Frank Shushok, vice president of student affairs, and Tom Matson, senior executive director of Gallup, say poor mental health and poor mental health loneliness are on the rise, that higher education institutions can and should be a catalyst for change, and that a personal well-being base can advance societal well-being.
“It is time for higher education to lead a cultural transformation with well-being as the foundation for advancing the outcomes we desire, not only for our students but also for our world,” wrote Shushok and Matson.
“One of the things I love about Virginia Tech is that we are brave enough to challenge the structures and practices that have been built for previous generations,” said Shushok. “It requires a spirit of innovation, flexibility and courage to constantly redesign our university of today and tomorrow. At Student Affairs, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to support the individual success, learning and well-being of each student. The well-being of our students will take center stage.
The potential impact of residential campus environments on students is enormous. Almost all Virginia Tech undergraduates begin their experience in a dormitory. Habits, patterns and relationships formed during the first year can significantly influence a student’s trajectory of success.
Primarily using existing staff and resources to redesign and implement an innovative structure, the new model will integrate residential living into Hokie Wellness and create strong partnerships with the Cook Counseling Center and Living-Learning programs. The goal is inclusive residential environments where all Hokies thrive. Five resident professional advisers will be integrated into the program.
Amy Epperley, Director of Hokie Wellness, will become Executive Director of Hokie Wellness.
Sean Grube, Director of Housing and Residence Life, will lead Residential Wellness, a vital sub-unit of Hokie Wellness. This will be a multidisciplinary team of CEOs for Wellness and Inclusion, Coordinators, Integrated Advisors, Student Leaders and Student Affairs Coaches who collaborate with communities, small peer groups and student affairs and campus departments.
Housing Services will transfer reporting lines to Ken Belcher, Director of Facilities Operations for Student Affairs.
“Time has never been more important,” Epperley said. “Year after year, we see students experience a decrease in their mental health and an increase in loneliness. We know nationally that students are struggling and they are struggling at Virginia Tech too. The global pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges. The data supports our understanding that the current model is broken. “
The Healthy Minds 2017-2018 survey indicated that:
- 21% of Virginia Tech students have high levels of depression. This represents about 7,200 students or more than one in five.
- 23 percent of Virginia Tech students have high levels of generalized anxiety disorder. This represents about 8,000 students, or almost one in four.
- Only 45 percent of Virginia Tech students said they were thriving (‘thriving’ is a term used by the Healthy Minds Survey to determine positive mental health and is a summary measure of self-perceived success. of a student in areas such as relationships, self-esteem, purpose and optimism).
National data shows that black, Hispanic and Asian students have higher levels of depression than white students. LGBTQ + students are at higher risk for mental health problems. Students with financial problems are at increased risk for mental health problems. Many students reported that the lack of social support networks was an additional challenge. Students also reported that emotional and mental difficulties affect their academic performance.
Currently, approximately 10,000 students reside in housing on campus. About 6,700 are first year students. University residences include 15 living learning communities and four residential colleges, which are already having an extremely positive impact on student outcomes. Virginia Tech continues to target nearly 70% of residential students involved in a living learning program by 2024.
Under the new structure, the 10,000 students on campus will become five communities of 2,000, each with a dedicated leadership team and student leaders with expertise in diversity and inclusion, well-being and student success. Within each community of 2,000 students, there will be peer groups of 150 students.
“It means seeing students as partners in the educational endeavor,” said Shushok. “It requires a willingness to listen to students and invite them to contribute meaningfully to everything we do. It also means being brave enough to speak honestly and openly about the difficult realities our world faces, such as racism, political polarization, a culture that prioritizes individualism over community, and a sense of erosion. general mental health and well-being.
“This model allows us to bring what we do best directly to students, rather than hoping that they will find their way to us. It creates a safety net for every student and enables the meaningful human relationships essential to undergraduate success, ”said Epperley.
A key part of the new model will be ExperienceVT, an extracurricular initiative that helps students discover their strengths, map their college experience, set goals, create pathways and chart their progress.
Mentorship opportunities, which have proven to be critical to undergraduate success, will be highlighted and enhanced by the new structure.
“Students experience the power of friendship and community in the residences. The place where students live is their starting point to experience TV and build a life of well-being, ”said Grube. “Well-being will become so ingrained in the culture of Virginia Tech that our students cannot help but understand and experience their own well-being. This will create a generation of Hokies who will understand how to take care of themselves so that they can take care of the world, in the spirit of Ut Prosim (So that I can serve).
The new model was presented to faculty and Student Affairs staff in July 2021. In August, the implementation team and working groups will be formed. By January 2022, Directors General for Wellness and Inclusion and Coordinators will be appointed. Student leaders will be identified in February. Training, programming and support systems will be in place by May. Integrated advisors will be in place by June. The first cohort of students will move into the new model in August 2022.
“We have one of the largest student affairs units in the country,” said James Bridgeforth, assistant vice president for student affairs and ExperienceVT. “These are decisions that shape the lives of students, the future of our university, and the future of the national student experience.”
Written by Sandy Broughton