WPI Cares: The Care Team’s Important Role in Supporting Students

March 17, 2022

This article is one in an occasional series about the people, offices, and services dedicated to supporting WPI students and our community.

They say it takes a village, and at WPI that village is made up of people across campus who work with students every day to help them succeed in all facets of college life. Central to that is the WPI Care Team, established in 2006, which is coordinated by the Dean of Students Office and meets weekly to help troubleshoot issues individual students are facing, from needing accommodations for a sprained ankle, to seeking help with roommate challenges or interactions with faculty, to finding support for academic challenges or mental health concerns.

“As a group, we work directly with students to help them manage any challenge they may be facing,” says Emily Perlow, associate dean of students, who has overseen the Care Team since 2015. “This is a very caring, connected community, and students come to the Care Team’s attention in any number of ways: they contact the Dean of Students Office themselves or we get a heads-up from friends, parents, roommates, faculty, coaches, or staff who are concerned, and often through the I’m Concerned About a Student form, which comes directly to us. Everyone here is looking out for students, and the Care Team is a major hub of our efforts to help.”

The Team includes representatives from nearly every student-facing office, including the Dean of Students, Academic Advising, Student Activities (including Greek Life), the Housing & Residential Experience Center, Student Aid and Financial Literacy, the Registrar, the Global Experiences Office, Graduate Studies, Undergraduate Studies, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Athletics, the International House, the SWEET (Supporting WPI through Effective and Equitable Teamwork) Center, the Office of Accessibility Services, Campus Police, and the Student Development and Counseling Center.

The Care Team serves an important role in WPI’s student support structure, and each member of the team is dedicated to ensuring that every student brought to their attention has what they need to be successful at WPI.  When the Care Team is made aware of a concern, the Dean of Students reviews the initial information, triages it, and assigns the case to a member of the Care Team the same day. Because the team includes representatives of nearly every facet of campus life, members can connect the dots to help identify what’s going on with a student.

For example, if a student’s roommate submits a concern, or their parent mentions the student is under a lot of stress, their faculty member might then realize that they’ve missed some assignments recently. By drawing together these separate observations, the Care Team can piece together a holistic view of the issue and identify the resources the student needs to be successful. Then, if the Team knows the student has a close relationship with their academic advisor, or coach, or RA, the Team works with these individuals to reach out to the student in a way that feels warm, comfortable, and non-judgmental, and helps to facilitate an open dialogue. When the concern is mental health–related, the Care Team relies heavily on personal connections; those who are often deeply invested in the student’s mental health and personal success can be especially helpful by relating to the student wherever they are and  encouraging them to seek help. Team members manage this work discreetly and with the student's privacy and best interests top of mind. They also document the process and whether and how the student has followed through on connecting to resources.

“While we work to support the student with whatever resources are needed, ultimately, this is a partnership,” says Perlow. “We cannot solve a student’s issues for them—they must act on their own behalf and use the many resources we offer. It’s rewarding to see students grow and learn to advocate for themselves and develop skills to solve the inevitable problems we all face in life. That’s an invaluable part of their education.”

As the work of the Care Team has evolved and the volume of new cases has steadily increased, the Dean of Students Office has added members to the team and has recently hired a full-time case manager. Lauren Buffone, LICSW, joined WPI in late February and is working to review the current team infrastructure, technology, and processes to ensure they are efficient, streamlined, and serving the team—and students—well.

Perlow considers the increase of volume of new cases to be a good thing, as it means that the WPI community is using the system and gaining an understanding about what the team is and does. She believes the Care Team can help provide context for processes and procedures at WPI, helping provide a more cohesive and positive overall experience for students.