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Graduate College leads in mental wellness initiatives; efforts bolstered by institutional support

-By Kinzi Dorr

Graduate student mental health and well-being has long been a focus at Boise State University. GradWell, implemented several years ago through a collaboration between the Graduate College and Counseling Services, provides mental wellness education, facilitates access to mental health resources, and fosters graduate student connections. GradWell also provides graduate faculty with the knowledge and guidance for identifying graduate students in distress and potential useful approaches.

Across the nation, university presidents and executive leadership teams have prioritized student well-being and access to wellness resources. This increasing focus closely aligns with a core pillar of Project Launchpad, Boise State’s groundbreaking strategy to partner together to better serve students during this critical time. The multidimensional project brought together a national summit of higher education leaders, featuring breakout sessions related to student engagement, health challenges brought on by the pandemic, and supporting overall student mental health. One panel consisting of graduate deans from across the nation, focused on the emergent topic of graduate student wellness. Spearheaded by Tammi Vacha-Haase, dean of the Graduate College at Boise State University, the panel shared interventions and strategies for student success in the areas of mental health, career development, and community engagement.

In line with many universities embracing the critical role wellness plays in student success, the Council of Graduate Schools recently released a Statement of Principles and Commitments on Graduate Student Mental Health and Wellbeing. This framework for institutional action addresses campus-wide, collaborative approaches to protecting the wellbeing of master’s and doctoral students. The document helps to further identify the value of targeting graduate student wellness and the importance of striving for a university culture that embraces graduate student mental health and provides essential resources for the graduate community.

“It’s no secret that student mental health and wellness is a pressing matter for many graduate deans and graduate school professionals,” said Vacha-Haase. “I am pleased Boise State recognized early on the value of offering support for our graduate students, and the need to care about their entire experience. National support for initiatives like GradWell allows for us to confidently advance as we seek creative approaches and resources for our students.”

Strengthened by this support, the GradWell program continues to identify challenges graduate students face and provide innovative resources. According to University Health Services, graduate students wellness is directly linked to academic and professional experiences. As students balance personal and work-related responsibilities, their overall wellness is also influenced by managing advisor relationships, financial stressors, physical health, and developing and maintaining social connectedness.

”Recognizing that graduate students have complex and differing challenges is critical in determining a path for success,” said Vacha-Haase. “By continuing to improve a wellness program that strategically offers direct support to graduate students and provides educational resources for our faculty, we are able to better promote student success.”

What started as one of the few programs nationwide targeting graduate student mental health, Boise State’s GradWell initiative has now become a model for universities seeking to implement focused wellness programming for graduate students.

Vacha-Haase recognized a developing need to pool essential resources for Idaho graduate students and those committed to serving graduate education. Along with Matt Niece, director of Counseling Services at University Health Services, Vacha-Haase recently met with graduate deans and clinic directors from Idaho State University and University of Idaho. The three universities have agreed to work together to plan a collaborative statewide conference focusing on graduate student well-being later this spring or early in the fall.

“Boise State has a longstanding history of meeting the holistic needs of our students. As a state, our collective institutions will benefit from dialogue about the critical importance of graduate student mental health and wellness, and how faculty and administrators can best meet the identified needs,” said Vacha-Haase. “Through these concerted efforts, I am confident that we can not only improve the quality of our students’ experiences, but shift the culture and perceptions around graduate student mental health.”

Visit the GradWell website to learn more about the initiative’s extensive efforts and resources aimed at shifting the culture around mental health and wellness in the graduate community.