Focused on mental self-help for students, employees

Like an increasing number of community colleges, Clark State College has over the past year kept at the forefront of its priorities the mental health and wellness of its students, faculty and staff in addition to their physical health and well-being.

In less then a year, the Ohio college has initiated trauma-informed practices for students and launched a virtual self-care space for faculty and staff.

Last fall, Clark State received a $1.6 million grant through the federal Title III Strengthening Institutions program, which it is using to implement additional trauma-informed practices on campus. The goal for this project is to increase enrollment, student success, retention and completion by supporting students holistically in order to reduce stress and improve mental health.

Important features of trauma-informed practices include a power dynamic that fosters a partnership between the service provider and service recipient, maximizing a person’s choices and control over a situation, basing interactions in relational collaboration and emphasizing strengths, adaptations and resilience over symptoms.

Implementing these practices allows Clark State to add features and programs helpful to all students, but it is especially supportive for students who have experienced trauma or potentially traumatic events, said Clark State President Jo Alice Blondin.

“Clark State is one of the first – if not the first – college to scale trauma-informed practice to ensure student success,” she said.

Serving faculty and staff

Understanding that mental health of faculty and staff is equally as important, the third class of Clark State’s SOAR participants tasked themselves with developing a self-care space for college employees.

SOAR – Serving Our Own through Leadership and Retention – was developed to facilitate mentoring of faculty and staff on campus and help them identify current and future leadership opportunities that will result in personal and professional growth.

SOAR mentees identified the importance of self-care for faculty and staff; soon after, plans for an employee self-care space began.

“After going through many options, we kept coming back to this project,” said Bridget Ingram, professor of early childhood education at Clark State. “When we first started working on this, it was pre-Covid. Our work started with plans for a physical care space on campus and then making it virtual as well.”

Clark State’s Virtual Self-Care (VSC) realm launched on March 1. Following months of planning, refining and constructing, there is now a place for faculty and staff to virtually enter a self-care site on Clark State’s Blackboard application. The space houses “lounges,” including: activity, serenity, motivation, creativity, humor, music and movies, hobbies and even a children’s lounge for parents to access activities for young family members.

“We wanted to have a space where people could go to decompress, recharge and refocus,” Ingram said.

A physical space, too

The next step is preparing the physical care-space on campus, slated to be available to faculty and staff beginning in the fall semester. The physical-care space will include massage chairs, monitors for access to virtual content, opportunities for music, hands-on activities, essential oils, conversation spaces, textures and lighting, Ingram said.

“People in service professions tend to give a lot to others but not to themselves,” Ingram said. “We are trying to change the mindset and remind people you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your students. You can’t have a good, strong organization without good, strong, healthy people on the front lines.”

Once a SOAR class solidifies a project, the group sees it through until there is a plan to sustain it, Ingram said.

“We’re really excited about it,” she said. “This is a vision that’s been around for a while. To have an institution that puts this much energy and support behind something that really is going to bolster the health of the people that work in the organization really says something.”

Blondin said she is proud of the SOAR mentees who identified a need, determined a solution and successfully modified their plan due to unforeseen circumstances like the pandemic.

“As part of the higher education community, Clark State always puts student success at the forefront of our priorities, but we must also care for ourselves and each other in order to achieve those goals,” she said. “This virtual self-care space – soon to also be a physical self-care space – will provide a place of respite for our hard-working faculty and staff to take time for themselves and continue to serve students.”

Other supports

Clark State also:

  • Established a NAMI ON CAMPUS Club for students. NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness – is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
  • Offers an eight-week certification course in the field of peer recovery support. The four-credit Peer Recovery Fundamentals course trains individuals to assist with managing mental health and/or addiction recovery and will be offered each semester throughout the year.
  • Joined a national campaign to prevent sexual assault and relationship violence. The project, called the Red Flag Campaign, uses a bystander intervention strategy to empower campus members to intervene when they encounter abusive behavior.
  • Secured an $899,228 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat the nation’s opioid crisis and establish paraprofessionals certificates to deliver needed services to fight addiction in the region.

About the Author

Darci Jordan
is in her seventh year as the marketing writer for Clark State College in Springfield, Ohio.