I am a member of the Inaugural Class of Minerva Schools at K.G.I., as well as Minerva’s, Mental Health Services Programs Coordinator for Berlin and Buenos Aries. Which sounds great, but seriously, what the heck does that even mean?
Minerva is a new university that aims to reimagine the paradigm of higher education, based on the science of learning. All classes are seminars, with a flipped classroom structure. Meaning that we students, learn the content on our own and spend time engaging with the deeper concepts behind the material. Moving the emphasis away from the professor teaching and instead towards students learning.
All of this is facilitated by Minerva’s online platform where all classes take place. Every student (no more than 20 per class) webcams into class, where the platform allows our professors to more easily check how much everyone is participating in the discussion, send us into breakout groups, and live poll the class. Beyond being of instructional benefit, the online format takes away much of the typical costs of facilities development and maintenance that traditional universities place upon their students. Additionally, it allows Minerva to be a genuinely international experience. Our student body is comprised of students from over 40 countries. We live and travel together to seven cities (in as many countries) in cohorts no greater than 150 students.
This unique structure has brought together an amazing community, with potential for changing many of the ways we view higher education. However, there is one factor of higher education that I work most with, and that is students’ mental health and wellness! Minerva students’ have necessarily high work loads, a variety of cultures and constantly transitioning lifestyles, which makes it the perfect edge case to gain insights on how to improve mental health care in universities.
Accessibility of Resources:
In the U.S., a 2014 study found that the average ratio of university mental health professionals to students is about 1:2080. This means that students in need of counseling services face long wait lists and a low amount sessions, resulting in care that is often literally too little too late.
This has a simple fix: dedicate resources so that students who seek help can get it! The real challenge comes in getting students to value their own well being and to reach out when they feel they need mental support. 80% of students who commit suicide (the second leading cause of university student death) never come into contact with any staff from the counseling center. How do we address these issues?
The answer is Cultivating Care through Community!
This is where my work comes in. As a student working on the school’s mental health team I get work on changes that try and address mental health before it becomes an impediment to education. Currently, I am working on a training for students to learn how to better manage their self care and stress management. Additionally, we are adapting trainings from other universities to include aspects from the science of learning, and create a more lasting impact. A prime example of this is the Student Support Network Training (originally developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute), where students are nominated by their peers to learn how to better understand their own mental health, as well as support friends by caring for them in crisis and connecting to the resource they need.
In addition, it’s no longer enough to focus solely on the counseling department’s efforts to improve students wellness. Our academic team offers periodic sessions with deans and professors to help students improve their writing, time management and other skills that can lead to increased stressed when not appropriately addressed.
The Student Experience Team has created a series of traditions that brings the student body together as well, to fight the isolation that can commonly occur when students transition into college. Every monday evening a different student takes a leap of faith and give their “Minerva Talk”, by sharing the story of their life so far. On Wednesdays students gather in small groups for Supper Clubs where they all bring some food to share as they explore questions that push them to be vulnerable.
While we still working on figuring out a lot of how we address student well being (and build this university) it’s become clear that the future of student care must be holistic and not just reactive.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts and also what you are working on! Please connect with me or comment below.