Council: State of the University
At the November 9 University Council meeting, the Provost’s portion of the State of the University dealt with student mental health and wellness, providing an update to what had been presented last fall (Almanac November 10, 2015). Provost Vince Price said that the focus of the work has been to advance the psychological health of students. The following are edited versions of the presentations based on transcriptions of the meeting.
The President’s portion of the State of the University focused on undergraduate admissions; Dean of Admissions Eric Furda’s presentation will be published in next week’s issue, November 22, 2016.
Bill Alexander, CAPS Director
Thank you for inviting us back. I want to say how appreciative we are of the student leaders here because we are very aware of what’s going on today and how stressful it is. Not only are we appreciative of your experience and the stories you tell, but also how hard it is that you shift gears to data and events and reviews after such experiences. Thank you for inviting us and we will see you tonight both in support and in solidarity.
I would like to introduce Meeta Kumar as the director of outreach and Ben Bolnick, student wellness coordinator. We are going to give you a brief overview of the work that we have done just in the last couple years as the result of the initial Task Force.
Just a few highlights of things we have been able to accomplish and are still working on since the Task Force (Almanac February 17, 2015) originally convened amidst the recommendations. I am going to go over three areas of concern. The first was ease of accessibility. Some of our accreditations and new programs and services give you an idea of the direction we are heading. Accessibility is a big issue for us and so I am very happy to tell you that we recently have gotten funding from the University to expand our staffing so we can be open three evenings a week and on Saturdays. The positions are posted online and we are in the process of hiring staff; we are very excited to be offering those extended hours. We’ve initiated the ability to schedule an initial consultation online. We are still working on that. Right now students can go online through our website, or they can call and book any number of times, today or tomorrow. They sign in with their PennKey and they are asked a few times when you are free to talk and you can check any number of times within a two-day period and we will get back to you. So you don’t have to call us if you don’t want to. You can have an idea in the middle of the night and go online and book that appointment.
We were very proud to receive our first accreditation a couple years ago from the International Association of Counseling Psychologists. This is the only accrediting body in the United States for college counseling centers. We would like to report that we passed with flying colors, and we got our re-up just last month. We are a little uptight right now; on December 1 we have a site visit from the American Psychological Association. They come to review us every seven years because we are an accredited site for psychology interns, and we have submitted the paperwork and we are bracing for the two-and-a-half-day site visit starting December 1. We have been an accredited training site for many years. We are one of the biggest and one of the best in the country. And so we hope to prove that again.
We are doing some exciting things in that area of programs and services. Our direct service and our therapy and our groups, med-management, are probably very well known. It’s probably what people think of when they think of CAPS. But probably more to the heart of who we are as psychologists and social workers and college counselors are two groups that we are starting this year. The first one is a Mandarin speaking support group, which we are so happy to be able to offer. This is simply a support group for Mandarin speakers, just as an introduction to our country and to our campus, to health and wellness in this country and what it means. There has been a lot of expression of gratitude from this group. We are offering it at CAPS but in conjunction with Rudie Altamirano and the folks over the at the International Program.
Our second new group is Tell Us Your Story. It is a first venture for us. It is a discussion group to which all students are invited. You don’t need to be a client at CAPS. You don’t need to sign in or register. You can be anonymous. You just need to show up. But it’s unique for CAPS because we think of it as a very important and clinical intervention. To describe it, I am going to read the three sentences that we posted online so that you can see what it’s all about. “Experiences of discrimination and marginalization that occur in the world impact and shape the lived experience of each of us and our Penn community. This group provides an opportunity to explore how these events and experiences affects one’s daily life health and wellness. This space affirms diversity and fosters inclusion, acknowledges oppression and offers support through storytelling.” We are offering it for six sessions and each session has its own theme. The themes have been: invisible, other, courage, displaced, hero and survivor. Students just come together to tell stories on those themes. It is unbelievably powerful, so I invite you to talk with your constituents about it. It is Thursdays at 5 p.m. and the next one happens to be tomorrow night on Displaced themes and it’s just a great place for support and very timely as Provost Price mentioned.
One of the other major recommendations of the Task Force was the Jed Foundation Health Matters Campus Program. As I reported, we filled out a long application, and submitted it to the Jed Foundation. We were accepted into the Health Matters Campus Program. We formed a campus advisory committee under the leadership of Beth Winkelstein and Val Cade. I am the chair of that committee and it has 28 members, about half of whom are students and the other half is faculty and staff. We reviewed the nine areas identified by the Jed Foundation, principally to monitor the health and mental wellness of our campus. It is a five-year commitment to this program. So it’s not something that is just quick and dirty and we look at it and say, yeah, we’re great, we do a good job. We look in depth at all of these things. We met last fall and we picked four of what we thought were the most important areas within the campus program. The very first one was policy systems and strategic planning; the others are academic performance; student wellness; and identification of students at risk. We divided our group into small sub-groups each studying one of those areas. In each one of these areas, we can see how we’re doing and monitor it over time. We finished our work on those four areas late in the spring and we are going to be meeting in the first week in December to review that work, evaluate the progress of the overall project and determine future directions and the next subgroups that we want to work on.
Meeta Kumar, CAPS Associate Director
Thanks for having us. I also want to take a minute to acknowledge all of the challenging times. I think it makes all the work that we do all the more important and urgent. That’s where I feel that I want to focus my energy and look forward to being with all of you at 6 p.m. today. ICARE, is for people who don’t know, a gate-keeper training program. And what that means is that it’s a training for lay-people that prepares them to detect and respond to issues of stress, distress and mental health crisis. And truly I want to say that this has been a remarkable journey since 2013. Just by the sheer number of people who have participated in this program. I really want to acknowledge our staff. I think it’s a testament to the quality, the commitment and the caring that they bring to the implementation of this program, and also just the eagerness with which our community has responded. We are overwhelmed by the demand for the program, and it’s been interesting to see the varied number of groups from RAs and GAs to Wharton undergraduate student groups to Athletics staff to staff at the New Bolton Veterinary Center to Nursing faculty and Engineering faculty. So our work is ongoing. I want to point out that we have rigorously assessed this program from the get-go and we have huge amounts of data that we are analyzing. Since 2014, we have done pre- and post-assessments and again it is remarkable to me the kind of feedback that we have received from our community. It highlights the importance and the quality of the program. 98.5% say they would recommend this to others. High and significant retention of knowledge and comfort in being able to apply the skills and stigma reduction are three objectives that are critically important to the program. Last spring, we conducted a pretty comprehensive follow-up. Three months, six months, and nine months after taking the training we had 284 respondents, which is a very high percentage. It’s the retention of knowledge, the implementation of skills and the numbers of people that our community is supporting with distress and crisis, is very interesting to note here. So here are some upcoming things to look out for: we are developing an online module to make this more widely accessible. We hope to employ, with the skills of Ben and others, social media strategies to continue the conversation. We have a publication in the works because we really feel that we have an innovative program here and we would like to be able to share it with peers in the field.
The Penn Wellness Partners Program was launched with VPUL Central and Student Health Service, in collaboration with the UA and GAPSA to really expand the network. No matter how much outreach we do, we hear back from students that they would like more visible touch points in the community who are more easily available. So this was launched with Penn staff in mind and we have 125 volunteers who have been trained with the ICARE program of the AVA Program, which is the Anti Violence Advocates. They provide timely resources and visible stickers that people can display in offices, in hallways, on laptops, and we are looking to further think about expansion programs.
Beth Winkelstein, Vice Provost for Education
As we all know and building on what we said already, student health and wellness has many intersections across campus and one of those areas is in the classroom with your faculty. Last year at this time we announced the pilot program of Wellness Ambassadors for faculty and this was suggested by the Faculty Senate to train faculty to serve as liaisons to other faculty in the undergraduate schools, which is where we are piloting this. We have modeled this largely after the Wellness Partners program, but recognizing the diversity of different access points and faculty arrangements in the undergraduate schools.
I will briefly update you on the Wellness Ambassadors program and then I am going to turn it over to my colleagues, Russ Composto who is the associate dean of undergraduate education in SEAS and Paulo Arratia who is the undergraduate chair in mechanical engineering and was also a member of the Faculty Senate Committee on Students and Educational Policies, which is that group that first suggested this program. Both of them are Wellness Ambassadors.
Currently we have 25 Wellness Ambassadors from the four undergraduate schools and two additional ambassadors from other schools, which have heavy involvement with undergraduates. In May we held a training session for the ambassadors which included our collaboration with CAPS, the ICARE training for all of those ambassadors. Then several sessions that had the intent of informing faculty about programs and services that will help support the success and the wellbeing of our undergraduates, also to foster discussions and connections between the faculty across the schools and to discuss potential ways to use such a program to put things into practice in the schools recognizing that there is variability as I mentioned. So the sessions were highly interactive and involved leadership and had directed partners with those centers in VPUL. We had leaders come from CAPS and Weingarten and Student Health, Access and Equity, and the College Houses, just to name a few. There were also panels with the Undergraduate Deans and their directors in the Schools so that the faculty would learn about those structures and understand the connectedness.
Based on the feedback from that training, over the summer and currently, we continue to work with the schools, we are finalizing informational material to share with the Wellness Ambassadors based on what they have found useful and we are also working with them to develop information that could be shared more broadly with the general faculty. We are developing a website where we will house the training materials that we did in May so that others can continue to access those resources, and that will be a dynamic place where we can provide ongoing updates on wellness initiatives across campus.
Thanks to Rob Ghrist who is a PIK Professor and also a Wellness Ambassador, we have developed a sticker for the Wellness Ambassador faculty, not unlike again, borrowing from the success of the Wellness Partners, students will be able to know and faculty will be able to know who those ambassadors are.
In December we are bringing the Wellness Ambassadors together to share their experiences that they have had over the semester and to talk about ways that we can integrate even more. VPUL and the Wellness Partners and the Wellness Ambassadors are working to come together so that these two groups can have a joint event and programming early next semester, so I know everybody is excited about that opportunity to strengthen the network.
Each of the undergraduate schools has adopted a different approach to using the Wellness Ambassadors in their schools. In some schools the Ambassadors sit on Curriculum Committees where faculty are thinking about the classroom and the curricula. In others they have been performing outreach and going to departmental faculty meeting and being involved in New Faculty Orientation. I will turn it over to Russ and Paulo who will talk about what SEAS is doing in this area.
Russ Composto, SEAS Associate Dean
What is important to note is that the SEAS Wellness Action Plan was put together about six months ago and it wasn’t a top-down approach. It was really a team of Faculty Wellness Ambassadors. One from each department and the research and academic service wellness team, which is basically my staff. So there are four staff members. They got together and created this action plan because they are the boots on the ground. These are the academic advising team who really know our students and work closely with our students and our faculty like Paulo who really deeply care about the well-being of our students. So I’m not going to go over this document, but basically it outlines the practices and the incident protocols and the responsibilities of the core wellness team. The chair of this team is Sonya Gwak, she was the point person until six months ago for all things wellness. And Meeta and others know this. Part of the goal here was to diversify the staff and the faculty who know how to treat wellness issues and just as importantly, know when to stop and to reach out to the professionals who know how to deal with our students.
So just to show you that 25% of our credit units are social sciences and humanities, I show the god Janus here. The purpose of showing you this is that the faculty Wellness Ambassadors and the RAS (Research and Academic Services) Wellness Team face different populations. The faculty wellness populations face the faculty and the RAS Wellness Team face the students and the staff. They are the core; they are the ones that everyone needs to go to. But now we know directly where their populations are connected to. The arrow underneath shows that students and faculty are connected as well. So we are not treating students in isolation, but we are trying to do this in a very congruent manner.
I am going to say briefly what the goals are of the RAS Wellness Team. These are academic advisors and engineering faculty who advise all students, but if there are difficult or challenging cases they go to our special academic advisors in my office. This RAS Wellness Team provides the resources or know where the resources are for the staff members. They follow up with our student cases in a timely manner and they manage ongoing cases. They play to the whistle. They don’t just stop, but they stay until they know that the students have been treated until the end of the game. So that is the role of our RAS Wellness Team. Paulo will tell you about the Faculty Wellness Ambassadors and something about our protocol.
Paulo Arratia, SEAS Undergraduate Chair
I want to take a step back and tell you where this has come from; it started with a conversation with Bill Alexander and the Faculty Senate. They told us that perhaps faculty is part of producing the stress on the population but also we have an eye and know the stress signals and we need to be more attuned with the stress signals so that flags can be raised and we can better serve our populations. From that point of view we decided that faculty perhaps should be more involved in the wellness of our students and I want to echo what my colleagues Russ and Beth have said. We are not training faculty to be counselors, we have professionals for that. But we are training faculty to be more aware and promote wellness in the school. That is the main idea. In the School of Engineering we have six main departments and we have designated one ambassador per one department. Mechanical Engineering has two because we are that special. These appointments will last for two years and over time more faculty will be trained in the issues of wellness and mental health.
There are a couple of things that are common sense but we all should adhere to them. The first one is to adhere to University Policy on Secular and Religious Holidays. We have to be aware not to produce anxiety around that matter. We need to adhere to University Policy on the Rules Governing Final Examinations, so we should not have projects during final examinations and we should not have homework during reading days. The Course Problem Notices are also very important. That is actually one of the first signals when a student is starting to signal stress. When the Course Problems Notices go out, they go out to the advisor, they go out to the RAS office, and if we start seeing way too many of those for a particular student, there is something there. That is when we jump into action. Of course, Course Absence Reports, there is also another tool there that we use. We use many of those. We see the reason why they happen and we jump into action as well. We have improved clarity on class policies and syllabi and also on examinations and on missed work requirements. Faculty should submit grades online. This seems like really common sense. But it needs to be stressed every semester so that we don’t add to the stress or the anxiety of the students. Beyond that, we are always keeping a close eye on our classrooms for behavioral signs, even during our office hours. As Wellness Ambassadors we should be very aware of the resources. There are a lot of resources out there. So we can guide our faculty colleagues, where to find the best resources.
Related: Council Coverage