Universities share latest examples of student well-being initiatives

Following on from Katie Rigg's last post, outlining several approaches and resources to help schools and universities in supporting students in their transition from secondary to higher education, we've received some great examples of the support being offered by our university members on the topic. Take a look at these four.

Marcella DeProto USF
 

 

Marcella DeProto, Director, International Student and Scholar Services, University of San Francisco

“At the University of San Francisco (USF) we do know that the first year can be a trying time for international students as they adjust to college and life in a new environment.”

 

At USF, we have many resources in place to support students but oftentimes the students that need the most support do not seek out these services. The main challenges are not unique to USF and include:

  • Adjusting to academic differences with US teaching and learning methods,
  • Language difficulty in communicating and writing in English,
  • Making friends and feeling like they fit-in socially,
  • Struggling with cultural adaptation, homesickness, and other mental health issues, and
  • Increase in the number of international students who present mental health issues and need counseling support or even to take a leave of absence from their studies.

"We try to catch students early"

Aside from the regular resources that most universities have (orientation, counseling, academic advising, tutoring) we see much of our success in our ability to triage across campus to support students through a network of staff and faculty. No matter where the issue is first noticed, the information is shared and triaged between the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office, the Dean of Students, the Center for Student and Academic Achievement (CASA), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), student conduct, housing, Student Disability Services (SDS), the student’s professors, and/or anyone else who could provide support. We try to catch students early. CASA has an early alert report that allows faculty to send information even when they have smaller concerns. Residence Life has protocols in place to communicate with residents and note any students who may not be adjusting well or other concerns for follow-up. The more we can build on this existing network, the better we will be at identifying those students who would otherwise not seek our services on their own.

“Frontloading all the information at orientation does not help students, they need time to settle in and digest the information”

We also have more preventative measures in place. ISSS sends weekly information and resources to students. We have a list of offices and resources that students should explore in their first 6-8 weeks (which we call internally our “continuing orientation”), giving them time to learn about a different resource each week. Frontloading all the information at orientation does not help students, they need time to settle in and digest the information. However, we still want to build it out to be more effective. Our ISSS advising staff have caseloads that help them get to know their students and be able to develop relationships with them and detect issues. 

At the top of our to-do list is improved pre-arrival information with video introductions for our ISSS office and also turning our continuing orientation into short videos. We want students to have more time before they arrive at USF to think about the transition and feel knowledgeable so that when they do arrive, it won’t be as overwhelming.

“Training staff and faculty to be culturally sensitive is an important part of supporting international students.”

Our USF Working group on the International Student Experience (WISE) is exploring faculty and staff training needs in the area of intercultural understanding. We are developing materials on intercultural sensitivity, and how faculty can make their classes more inclusive of international students and non-native English speakers. The WISE group is looking to distribute this information widely across campus so that it is built into the onboarding process and institutionalized in each department.

Editor’s note: What does intercultural understanding and its practical application looks like? Find out by joining us in The Netherlands in January 2020 or in Singapore in February 2020 for a CIS Symposia on Intercultural Learning. Our Call for Proposals is open until 23 September if you’d like to present.
 
 

Alex Whitcomb, Strategy Project Coordinator, Erasmus University College, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

“With approximately 600 students from over 80 different nationalities, the college is characterized by a personal approach and a small-scale international environment.”

 

Erasmus University College (EUC) is the international undergraduate honour’s programme of Erasmus University Rotterdam offering a bachelor’s in liberal arts and sciences. With approximately 600 students from over 80 different nationalities, the college is characterized by a personal approach and a small-scale international environment. We have some things in place and are looking to implement others to improve our efforts for student well-being. We plan to extend the peer groups established in the orientation week to a formal and ongoing support structure for students throughout the entire first year. These ‘support groups’ will consist of 12 students and continue to meet twice a semester together with an academic coach, two peer mentors and a student counsellor to reflect upon topics of well-being, personal development and goal setting.

“The aim is to create a safe place for students to be okay with showing vulnerability and to work collectively on building a culture of resilience.”

Every few weeks students will be able to attend workshops on a wide array of topics from dealing with failure, to study skills, to alcohol, drugs and safety. The aim is to create a safe place for students to be okay with showing vulnerability and to work collectively on building a culture of resilience. The learnings from the workshops will be brought to the small group sessions and discussed among peers. To ensure that the programme is taken seriously the plan is to embed it in the curriculum and students would be required to complete goal mapping and reflection exercises throughout the year. By taking such a structured approach to the topics of well-being and personal development in a small-group setting with diverse advisors, it is hoped that the college can de-emphasize the culture of ‘academic perfection’, as well as proactively identify and refer cases of concern to health professionals quickly. Furthermore, having a diverse support structure (consisting of peers, mentors, coaches and counsellors) increases the options available to students when seeking support.

 

 

 

Salisha Randel, Manager, International Enrolment, Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

“For our International Enrolment team, it is important for our staff to be equipped with a strong foundation and the necessary tools to thrive; we aim to foster a supportive, engaged, and compassionate environment.”

 

 

At Ryerson University, ThriveRU provides training and resources to our students, faculty and staff to teach the skills associated with resilience, well-being and thriving in both an academic and personal context. For our International Enrolment team, it is important for our staff to be equipped with a strong foundation and the necessary tools to thrive; we aim to foster a supportive, engaged, and compassionate environment. 

The purpose of ThriveRU is to help students feel a sense of support on campus, to better appreciate the connections between academic success and other elements of a healthy lifestyle, and, primarily, to help students develop capacities for thriving that will serve them throughout their lives.

Scholar-in Residence, Dr Diana Brecher, created the ThriveRU initiative and developed the four-session resilience training program to teach the five-factor model of resilience (mindfulness, gratitude, optimism, self-compassion, and grit). This program is available separately for students, faculty and staff at Ryerson University.

"Thriving in Action is a holistic 11-week program [...] to help struggling students [...] to thrive, academically and personally, to build motivation, optimism, and resilience,"

Thriving in Action is a holistic 11-week program, created by Dr Brecher and Dr Deena Kara Shaffer, to help struggling students (in their second year and beyond) to thrive, academically and personally, to build motivation, optimism, and resilience, along with learning strategy essentials like time management and effective studying. 

Perhaps the students have had a tough academic year, didn’t get the grades they’d hoped for or just want to do better but don’t know where to start, it’s designed for them. And Cultivate Your Happiness: A ThriveRU Weekly Workbook was designed to anticipate the challenges of each week of each term and provide an exercise that students can use to increase their capacity to be resilient in the face of the challenge of that week.

 

 

 

Elke Laudy, Study Advisor at Leiden University College (LUC), The Hague, The Netherlands

“… we’re scheduling some trial modules/workshops to start this August for all first-year students to help them develop life skills.

 

We’ve launched various well-being initiatives at Leiden University College with a focus on mental health and we’re scheduling some trial modules/workshops to start this August for all first-year students to help them develop life skills. These are in addition to our existing initiatives like our introduction programme and the role of the Resident Assistant. 

New students are expected to participate in our elaborate introduction programme. Its purpose is not only to get to know their study programme but also gives focus to helping them settle into their new home, getting to know their new city, making practical arrangements, and taking part in social activities to get to know their fellow students. And every floor of the LUC building where students live has a Resident Assistant (RA), a senior student who can help them find their way and answer questions if needed. These RAs organize social activities to increase social cohesion on their floors.

Their programme of study comes with a whole new set of expectations and requirements, this can be quite challenging for new students. All students are therefore paired with an Academic Advisor in their first week; a lecturer, who can help them find their way in this new academic environment and support them with the transition into academics and course-related questions. Students have a mandatory meeting with the Study Advisor who helps them with the practical arrangements of their studies—to find out how they are doing, if their expectations are met and how they are adapting to their new situation. Students can sign up for workshops about both stress and time management, and throughout their time at LUC, students can meet with our Student Life Councilors, also known as the student psychologists. The transition from high school to university can be challenging for students so it’s important that we keep an eye on the students to see how they are coping with the change and to offer them tools to adapt to this new situation.

With the launch of our 2019 initiatives, we’ll continue to bring together students and experts who address topics like performance pressure, uncertainty about the future, causes of stress and the support we have available for students. And the new modules we are working on will build students’ resilience in new and unknown situations. We’ll cover topics like intercultural communication and social interaction and address skills that will not only help them during their first period at LUC, but also later in their academic and professional career.


Thanks to Marcella, Alex, Salisha and Elke for letting us know the actions they’ve taken to strengthen student support services with a focus on well-being. We hope you’ve found them useful. We’re currently gathering more examples and practical guidance to share with our members.

School counsellors: What questions do you have for university representatives to gain a better understanding of the support they provide to students upon arrival and throughout their time at university? Please post your questions in the comments below or email Katie. Thanks!

If you want to learn more about how to address student well-being issues in school and university, join us in Bilbao, Spain on 18-19 November for a new workshop that focuses on mental health and well-being. Sessions include addressing abuse and harm through the lens of safe organizational cultures. Find out more.