By: Navneet Johal, Director of Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org & Kathryn Peterson, Director of Strategic Content at Salesforce.org
As former teachers, we’re empathetic to the challenges education can present on any given day, but especially during these times. We’re inspired by the compassionate resilience of higher education leaders, faculty, and staff who are supporting students with mental health issues and navigating a global pandemic — and we’re excited to share some of those stories this month in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
In conversations with higher ed leaders and expert organizations, such as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), we’ve seen three best practices emerge as institutions prioritize student wellbeing.
Institutions can support students by prioritizing wellbeing in policies, practices, and supporting technology.
1. Create a Culture and Design for Wellbeing
Over the last five years, institutions haven’t been able to hire enough counselors to address the student mental health crisis. So, organizations such as NASPA suggest upstream solutions — like teaching students resiliency, stress management, and other behavioral changes — to help prevent more concerning downstream problems.
Some student wellness centers, including those at Wake Forest University and Ohio State University, have developed models that ensure student wellbeing on multiple levels, including emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and financial dimensions.
“It’s imperative to have support from upper administration,” says Marian Trattner, interim director at the Office of Wellbeing at Wake Forest University. “Our president talked about the importance of thriving and wellbeing back in 2014 and was inspired to integrate wellbeing and a holistic framework across the campus that includes not only students, but employees as well.”
2. Hire a Wellbeing Leader
It’s critical to surround students with a care team to enhance lifelong wellbeing, and not just in the moment. Some institutions are hiring chief wellness officers (CWO) to augment the work of Student Affairs. The idea is to treat mental health and wellbeing not as a specialized concern or a separate office, but as a natural part of campus life.
In 2011, Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, CWO at Ohio State University, was appointed the first CWO in higher education — a role she still holds today. Melnyk says that mental health and wellbeing has been built into the university plans, and endorsed and approved by university leadership, president’s cabinet, and the board of trustees.
“My role is to spearhead and improve population health and wellbeing for our students, faculty, and staff within a sustained wellness culture that makes healthy behaviors the norm, so that everyone can achieve their highest potential and aspirations,” Melnyk says.
Melnyk recommends that student affairs leaders collaborate and partner with people inside and outside your institution and focus efforts on student self-care, and resiliency skills. “Building a culture of wellbeing will improve the mental health and wellbeing of students, faculty, and staff,” she says.
Holistic advising tools, such as Advisor Link, help staff understand students more deeply and build stronger paths to wellbeing.
3. Use Technology as an Enabler
Finally, technology can propel your institution’s wellbeing efforts forward, even if you don’t have a large staff to support students. From virtual advising and online communities to student surveys, employee assessments, and tools for tracking data — these tools enable equity and help you make the most of the resources you have. For example, regular wellness checks could flag a student suffering from food insecurity, substance abuse, or other serious matters that need immediate attention.
The key to using these technologies in the most effective way, says Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA, is to pay attention to what the data is telling you so you can get a holistic picture of students — especially those who are struggling.
“Using data and analytics to serve the individual student is the future of higher education,” says Kruger.
“If we’re going to be constrained on resources, we need to put the resources that we do have into the students who need us the most.”
When technology makes advisors more accessible, students are more likely to reach out — not only for academic support, but for their total wellbeing. In fact, more than half of students (51%) look for this kind of support on their schools’ website or via email (42%).
Cornell University is just one example of the many institutions that will offer both virtual and in-person advising this fall, with the help of Salesforce.
“Although we can’t wait to see our students face-to-face again, we also see the benefit and ease if a student prefers a virtual meeting between classes, or if they won’t be near campus that day,” says Ann LaFave, senior director of student services for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.
We hope these best practices empower you — and higher education institutions everywhere — to provide the support students need.
For more wellbeing inspiration, best practices, and tools, download our guide, Rethinking Wellbeing in Higher Ed, to set your students on a path to greater wellbeing.
About the Authors
Director of Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org
Navneet is the Director of Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org, supporting solutions across the student experience. Prior to joining Salesforce, Navneet was a solution director for higher education and research at SAP, and a senior analyst in Ovum, where she led research on the use of technology in higher education. Navneet’s passion for education and technology began when she was teaching in the further education sector in the U.K. for several years before moving to the U.S.
Director of Strategic Content at Salesforce.org
Kathryn leads the research and content strategy for Education Cloud at Salesforce.org. She has more than 15 years of experience managing strategic content for organizations, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Newsweek, and Adobe. As a former adjunct professor, she’s passionate about increasing equity and social justice for academically vulnerable populations.