WPI's Innovative Student Support Network Program Awarded Federal Grant

February 16, 2010

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) Student Development and Counseling Center (SDCC) has been awarded a three-year, $300,000 federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to continue and expand the university’s innovative Student Support Network program.

The Student Support Network is WPI's education and training program for student peer networks that is designed to enhance student well-being and safety on campus; it is the first of its kind in the nation. The training provides members of the WPI community information and skills in how to identify and support students in distress. With this award, SAMHSA is recognizing WPI for its proven ability to generate ideas that help enhance mental health and well being, and prevent suicide on college campuses. The university was selected for this grant specifically because of its leadership in working with student peer networks; with part of the funding, the SDCC will support other universities in developing Student Support Network programs that are based on the WPI model.

The SDCC provides educational programming and training, counseling, referral, and crisis intervention services to WPI students. It focuses on assisting students as they go through the process of becoming adults so they may achieve greater levels of personal, academic, and professional success; and helping students become aware of, and effective in, their roles, relationships, and responsibilities. 

Charles Morse, director of the SDCC and the grant's principal investigator, oversees the Student Support Network initiative. He says that WPI’s Student Support Network trains student leaders to improve support among students in a proactive fashion. "WPI has become known as a leader in the area of peer programming to promote mental health awareness and well being on campus. Other schools are establishing similar programs for their campuses," he said. “Research has emerged that points to the importance of peer training. Two-thirds of students across the nation will turn first to friends when they have a problem. I think we hit on the right idea, at the right time, and other universities have come to see how Student Support Network can be an effective and successful way to reach out to students who may feel stressed."

The SDCC recently created a manual for college campuses interested in launching a Student Support Network program. Within the first month since the manual's completion, 17 colleges have requested copies, and two Boston-area campuses have begun implementing the Student Support Network program this academic year. "With our current funding I hope and expect we'll be able to support many more campuses implementing the Student Support Network program," Morse said.

In 2007, WPI was awarded a three-year $225,000 grant from SAMHSA, which allowed WPI to launch the Student Support Network. Money from the new grant round will be used to provide more SSN training opportunities for faculty, staff, and students; maintain the Student Support Network outreach coordinator position; support operations; and to launch a marketing campaign directed at mental health stigma reduction.

In the first three years of the grant, the SDCC has done groundbreaking work on enhancing peer networks of support within the WPI community, according to Morse. With the new grant, "We'll be able to broaden these and other efforts," he said, noting that the university matched the first grant, and will do so again with the new award.