For college students to thrive, they need a strong foundation – not just academically but physically, mentally, and emotionally. And those needs have never been stronger than in the wake of a pandemic that upended the traditional high school experience for many.
Keuka College is meeting those needs through innovative new programs, bolstered resources, and a Collegewide philosophy that puts a premium on creating a climate of wellness.
“Our goal is to empower students to become more informed about the sources of stress and educate them about the many health and wellbeing resources that we have,” said Dr. Chris Alterio, founding dean of the College’s School of Health and Human Services, which is helping to drive the College’s wellness efforts.
He said support services are intended to cover all dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental.
“We want to increase visibility for the entire campus around these eight dimensions of wellness,” added Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Dr. Carrie Roberts ’02, who directs several College-supported health initiatives.
Immersed in Innovation
One avenue for that increased visibility was the recent “Passport to Wellness Day,” sponsored by the College’s Mental Health and Wellness Task Force and the School of Health and Human Services. Students were able to stamp their “passports” by attending any of the more than three dozen health-related events held throughout campus on April 5.
College faculty, staff from the offices of Student Life and Health and Counseling Services, and outside professionals joined forces to host programs focused on topics ranging from financial strategies to mental health and suicide prevention to job-seeking skills to expressing emotions through art. The sessions were open to College faculty and staff, as well.
“This was a prime example of the Mental Health and Wellness Task Force’s commitment to creating a culture of wellness for the entire college community – students and employees,” said Dr. Roberts.
The task force was created about two years ago as the College, along with the rest of the world, began to emerge from the lockdowns and social distancing necessitated by COVID.
“The Mental Health and Wellness Task Force was formed in response to our community's need for wellness and to restore our equilibrium as we emerged from the pandemic,” said Dr. Alterio. “We’re all still finding ways to cope with unprecedented change, stress, and disruption in many aspects of our own lives.”
A Multi-tiered Approach to Wellness
The task force is a reflection of the College’s overall commitment to a climate of wellness, a commitment that is reinforced in a planning document in support of the College’s about-to-be-enacted 2023-25 Strategic Plan:
“We support every member of the Keuka College community through an integrated campus-wide, multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) in all eight dimensions of wellness that includes quality prevention and intervention programming.”
Dr. Roberts explained that the system’s three tiers are focused on students but applicable to the entire College community:
- Tier 1: Universal – This tier is designed to meet the needs of all students, regardless of whether they are at risk for academic, behavioral, or mental health problems, and includes systemic efforts to support a positive campus climate and general well-being. It includes communal spaces such as the Wellness Center and the MindSpa, supportive services such as Mental Health First Aid training, and special events such as Rec the Block and the Late-Night Breakfast.
- Tier 2: Targeted – This tier encompasses interventions geared toward skill development and/or increasing assistance for students. It includes academic support services, behavioral health interventions, athletic support, and peer-to-peer education initiatives.
- Tier 3: Intensive – This tier provides individual support and interventions for students exhibiting severe or persistent behavioral or mental health challenges. It can include individual counseling, crisis intervention from the KC Cares team, or medical responses.
Dr. Roberts said increased awareness of, and reliance on, Tier 1 and 2 services promotes wellness – providing individuals with an alternate lens through which to view the normal spectrum of wellness. Consistent participation in Tier 1 and 2 support services helps individuals to flourish.
The College is investing in people as well as programs to promote a culture of wellness in all its aspects.
Brandi Sears ’18 M’19 returned to her alma mater this month as a new mental health counselor. A licensed social worker, she spent nearly four years at FLACRA in Penn Yan, where she facilitated group and individual therapy sessions, developed treatment plans, counseled clients, and supervised multiple staff.
“She’s coming to us with a lot of experience,” said Health and Counseling Director Kristen Bray. “Her primary role will be providing one-on-one counseling, although she’ll also have a hand in conducting outreach to the general student population.”
Moving over from a full-time faculty role to the position of Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy is veteran Keuka College instructor Dr. Cassie Hey ’04 M’08. Starting this fall, she’ll spend half her time providing occupational therapy wellness services directly to students and helping to develop and oversee new wellness programs across campus.
She said the lingering impacts of the pandemic are still evident – especially among a student population that may have lost valuable high school opportunities to develop coping skills – which is why the College’s efforts to promote a well-rounded climate of wellness are so vital.
“Social wellness, emotional wellness. – those are certainly the spotlights because those are the ones that are more evident,” Dr. Hey said. “But there might be those other dimensions that are equally important: intellectual wellness, financial wellness, environmental wellness. The goal is to promote a culture of wellness that addresses all areas of life. Achieving holistic wellness requires addressing these various aspects of life.”
These new positions will augment the work of Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator Steven Stage, who has worked closely with students since joining the College shortly after the task force was formed.
“Steven’s like the mayor for the students,” said Dr. Roberts. “You don’t have to say ‘Go to the Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator’ – they just know ‘Steven.’ He was the perfect person for that position; the students are 100% comfortable with him.”
Building on Success
Dr. Roberts said hiring Stage, fellow Mental Health Coordinator Matthew Kois, and Sears are among the many ways the College is investing in wellness.
“The College has made these efforts a priority,” she said. “Hiring Steven. Hiring a grant-writing consultant. Creating the task force. Implementing the PyraMED health information system in the student portal.”
She also cited cross-divisional participation with the Mental Health & Wellness Task Force from all quarters of the College, from faculty to staff to athletics to student organizations.
These investments are as intentional as they are assertive, said College President Amy Storey.
“We knew long before the pandemic that, for our students to reach their full potential, they need to be supported academically, physically, and emotionally,” she said. “The challenges of the past few years have heightened that need and Keuka College has made responding to it an institutional priority.”
That has meant a number of high-profile new initiatives over the past two years:
- The College’s School of Health and Human Services has brought together programs in the divisions of Applied Health and Wellness, Social Work, and Nursing. Dr. Alterio said the school promotes interdisciplinary cooperation, provides new opportunities for student training, and better prepares students as they graduate and move on to serve their communities.
The school also reinforces wellness not only as a desirable culture but as a result of the work graduates will perform as they embark on careers in healthcare fields.
- The College-led FLOURISH Network – the acronym stands for Finger Lakes Outreach: Underserved Rural Integrated School/Behavioral Health – was launched a year ago through a $625,000 grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The initiative serves the greater community by providing mental-health training for instructors who then train additional community members, creating an ever-broadening army of responders for local residents wrestling with mental health challenges, substance abuse, and depression.
- The College is awaiting word on a $1.2 million federal grant that would help fund a proposed Rural Community Outpatient Clinic, which would provide wellness and healthcare services to the greater community. New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, whose 24th Congressional District includes Yates County, recently selected the College’s grant application as one of 15 from more than 100 submissions to be forwarded to the House Appropriations Committee for review.
Dr. Alterio said that Keuka College will continue to support and sustain a climate of wellness through long-term initiatives like the School of Health and Human Services and concentrated, high-profile events like Passport to Wellness Day – all of it cemented by the College’s most reliable resource: It’s people.
“The faculty, staff, and students of this college have many talents,” he said. “Events like Passport to Wellness Day demonstrate the collective effort of this institution in response to the community’s need for wellness. This work, which will remain a continued focus, embodies our tagline, ‘Believe in What We Can Do Together.’”