Mental Health and Well-Being Task Force and Mental Health Implementation Team Work to Bring a Culture of Wellness to WPI
The last academic year brought a major focus on mental health and well-being to the WPI campus as the community and the nation faced a crisis in youth mental health that was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. To work towards nurturing a culture of wellness that promotes healthier habits, behaviors, and decisions that permeate all areas of the community, in September 2021, President Leshin convened a Mental Health and Well-Being Task Force (MHWBTF), which was made up of students, faculty and staff. The Task Force’s main charge was to seek input from all members of the community in order to better understand the intersection of mental health and well-being and the rigors of higher education, and to identify new opportunities to support the community.
Led by co-chairs Jean King, Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences, and Matt Barry, assistant director of the Student Development & Counseling Center (SDCC), the Task Force included more than 35 students, faculty, and staff and gathered information from a major survey, town hall listening sessions, and many other sources to identify high-level findings which were presented to the community by way of three reports focused on students, faculty and staff, and underrepresented groups on campus.
“The six-month effort of the task force was essential in destigmatizing mental health issues of all community members at a critical stressful time for WPI. The Task Force provided listening sessions, data collection and data analysis that supported the expansion and, more importantly, the steps to make the university’s mental health initiatives sustainable. The data pointed to common issues experienced by community members and identified ways we can take individual responsibility for our own self-care while building a more resilient community for all,” said Jean King, Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences and co-chair of the Mental Health and Well-Being Task Force.
In early March, the Task Force transitioned its work to the Mental Health Implementation Team (MHIT), led by Senior Vice President of Student Affairs, Philip Clay, and Director of Emergency Management, Ron Bashista, to ensure continued progress on the Task Force’s recommendations. MHIT leadership reviewed the recommendations from the Task Force, in addition to recommendations from the Riverside Trauma Center’s independent review of WPI’s mental health practices, and inputs from other community groups including WPI Strong Parents and student leaders representing WPI Advocates. The input and recommendations were synthesized to establish the priorities for the initial work of MHIT, with a focus on six sections: Student Life, Academics, Programs, Training, and Services (including the Center for Well-Being), the First Year Experience, Communications, and Faculty and Staff. Each section includes representatives from the student body in addition to faculty and staff. MHIT’s organizational structure focused on tactical sub-teams made up of students, faculty, and includes liaisons between the overall team and parents and also aligns with WPI’s strategic initiatives.
“Building upon the comprehensive and amazing work of the Task Force, MHIT has been hard at work to begin to realize the vision of improving mental health on campus. Student well-being and enhancing the student experience remain at the core of our work, but we are also focusing on the well-being of all members of our community. While MHIT will be spearheading the execution of the MHWBTF recommendations, we all have a role to play in addressing mental health challenges. Our hope is that every member of our community will embrace the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of others and enhancing well-being on campus. Working together, we can make a difference”, said Philip Clay, senior vice president of Student Affairs, and co-chair of MHIT
Both MHWBTF and MHIT have devoted hundreds of hours towards developing and executing a plan for improving mental health and well-being. Their achievements and accomplishments, supplemented heavily by the collaboration of many students, faculty, staff members, parents, alumni, and others from across the community, are showcased here.
Mental Health and Well-Being Task Force Completed Actions:
Fall/ Winter 2021
- Intensified an ongoing outreach/support of students via internal and online communications channels, social media, personal interactions, and a new Be Well Together Resources webpage.
- Faculty governance hosted a special faculty meeting focused on factors impacting wellness.
- The Morgan Center for Teaching and Learning hosted workshops to help faculty and staff incorporate wellness strategies into their course curricula.
- The SDCC hosted 12 Recognizing and Responding to Student Distress (RRSD) training sessions and several Student Support Network sessions for faculty, staff, and students to learn about signs of stress and how to guide students to help.
- Hosted Be Well Together Day, a day intended to be free of classes and meetings to allow the community to come together for reflection and wellness activities.
- Drop-in grief counseling in the wake of recent losses in addition to student-led vigil and listening session.
- Hosted a series of 16 town hall-style listening sessions for students, faculty, staff, parents, and families.
- Launched a comprehensive, campus-wide survey to gather feedback from all students, faculty, and staff; additional outreach began to alumni and parents.
- Task Force convened for a five-hour retreat to review data and begin developing longer-term recommendations.
- Launched Be Well Together biweekly email series to provide the community with updates on Task Force activities and wellness tips.
- Presented initial findings, preliminary survey data, town hall feedback, and draft recommendations to President Leshin and the Advisory Committee.
- The SDCC recruited three additional full-time counselors, alongside additional per diem counselors.
- The SDCC launched an after-hours telehealth service (Protocall) to augment its Counselor-on-Call system, providing students with access to mental health counselors when the SDCC is not open in the evenings and on weekends.
- SDCC launched an online scheduling function, providing students with the option of scheduling appointments at any time.
- Plans on track to launch the new Center for Well-Being at WPI early in 2022; a director was actively recruited.
- The Morgan Teaching and Learning Center developed Supporting Students Through Challenging Times to help faculty and staff talk with students and direct them to resources.
- Recruited additional staff in Academic Advising, Student Activities, and to support the CARE Team
- The Task Force’s high-level findings which were presented to the community by way of three reports focused on students, faculty and staff, and underrepresented groups on campus.
- Transitioned work to the Mental Health Implementation Team (MHIT)
Mental Health Implementation Team Completed or In Progress Actions:
Programs, Training and Services Section:
- Koru Mindfulness Meditation offered for PE credit in D-term and scheduled each term next year. Renaming PE requirement to Wellness and PE requirement was approved starting in AY 2023-2024 to support expansion of wellness offerings for credit.
- Director, Associate Director, and Office Services Coordinator hired for Center for Well-Being. Interviews are underway for student Peer Wellness Ambassadors
- Launched a new group-counseling workshop series for trans students in D-term that will continue in the fall
- Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Suicide Prevention Grant submitted through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Partnered with ProtoCall, a 24-7 emergency on-call counseling service, WellTrack, a wellness promotion and mood tracker app/service, and The Shrink Space, a referral service providing students and the SDCC with off-campus referrals to private therapists who specialize in college mental health
Student Life Section:
- Expansion of housing at South Village and use of Student Center at South Village featuring programming space, social lounges, and dining options.
- Continuing ongoing assessment of campus restroom accessibility to increase the number of available all-gender restrooms in academic buildings.
- Incorporated student voices into the MHIT strategy through three (3) drop-in office hours and hosting a 3-hour Student Resource Guide Hackathon.
- Comprehensively reviewing and updating student leader job expectations, training, and professional development.
- Completing new staff hires for an Assistant Director of Student Activities (beginning May 2022) and Assistant Director for Religion and Spiritual Life (beginning July 2022).
First Year Experience Section:
- Re-structured New Student Orientation with a new schedule for incoming students to help highlight what to expect from their WPI Experience and created more opportunities to interact with peers, staff, and faculty, while learning about campus resources.
- Created a brand-new day-long on campus welcome experience for incoming students that will launch in June: First Year Experience Days (on campus and virtually) will give the Class of 2026 and their parents/champions ways to engage with resources and learn what to expect as a new member of the WPI Community.
- Expanded late night and weekend programming to provide substance-free alternatives for students to social and engage outside of the classroom on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
- As part of the First Year Welcome Experience, the Summer Transition Assistant position, a leadership role for current WPI students, has been created to greet our incoming class at their s welcome experience day and partner with them for the summer to provide personalized peer-level support.
- Virtual peer tutoring will be offered by Academic Resources Center (ARC) tutors throughout E1 and E2 Summer 2022 terms.
- Worked closely with students, faculty, and staff to address the Task Force recommendation that campus-wide periods of rest and reflection be built into the academic calendar. The 2022-23 calendar, proposed by students on MHIT, includes at least one of these days in each term.
- Created Marketplace of Ideas for faculty to share best practices to reduce academic pressure. This will be an opportunity to share ideas, best practices, and learnings of what is helpful for students and achievable for faculty
- Piloting new Testing Center (in addition to Exam Proctoring Center) for students who need to make up exams
- Faculty Governance committee (CASL) working on identifying excellent advisors. CASL is also developing examples of ‘successful’ student schedules that incorporate study time, meals, exercise/wellness breaks, and more.
- Early Warning Survey (Pilot in Summer Courses)
Staff and Faculty Section:
- In collaboration with the Inclusive Culture Committee, established a Staff Council that will represent the voice of non-union staff on campus and will serve as an advocate to support the interests and needs of staff, while supporting the mission, values, and strategic goals of the WPI.
- Currently conducting a comprehensive review of compensation, including engaging an external consultant, involving staff, updating job descriptions, benchmarking and salary analysis (FY23-24)
- Currently conducting a comprehensive review of benefits through an inclusive lens including health, tuition, parental leave, retirement and beyond
- Increasing communication and raising awareness of existing wellness offerings including Tufts Living Well, understanding EAP benefits, etc.; restarting Healthy Herd initiatives including walking challenge and lunchtime yoga. Updated benefits website to bring forward wellness benefits currently available to employees, regardless of participation in Tufts.
- To support wellness and balance, established summer hours for the summer of 2022, reinforcing remote/flexible work policy and training for managers, establishing working hours email protocol and meeting etiquette (i.e. ending meetings early to allow for breaks between them).
- Raise awareness of WPI’s commitment(s) to mental health and community well-being while helping to destigmatize mental illness
- Reach and engage all with ongoing consistent, informative, and transparent messaging related to MHIT efforts and action plans and outcomes
- Ensure mental health and well-being messaging across campus remains relevant and timely
- Educate the WPI community on the wellness related resources available to them and ease the process by which these resources are found and utilized
- Continue to assess ideal communications strategies to ensure members of the WPI community are connected and informed