Groups of students presented their proposals for lowering student stress on Wednesday as part of the first round of the second annual Innovate Wellness Challenge.
Roughly 40 students, divided into 15 groups of three or fewer, developed and presented original plans for improving the mental health of their peers for the first round of the challenge. During the next two rounds of competition, they will be narrowed down until the three teams with the most promising plans of action present their ideas and prototypes before a panel of judges for the chance to be rewarded up to $2,250 and the opportunity to work with UConn faculty members to implement their ideas on campus.
The challenge, which began last year with a focus on community and shared experiences, is a collaborative effort between the UConn Wellness Coalition and Operations and Information Management Innovate.
Johnathan Moore, the management information systems academic director for the UConn School of Business, views the competition as an opportunity for students to impact the world around them while learning valuable skills and potentially building a resumé.
“We want to give students the opportunity to learn through these collaborative co-curricular challenges, but also allow them to see the real impact they can have on the UConn community,” Moore said.
Students based their proposals on survey data provided to them by the National College Health Assessment. The data, compiled from the responses of thousands of college students around the country self-reporting their well-being and stress levels, appears to show a higher prevalence of stress and a sense of being overwhelmed among students attending the University of Connecticut.
Proposals shown at the first round were creative and diverse. One plan focused on replacing the harsh, white lighting standard in many UConn dorm rooms with softer, more yellow bulbs. Another suggested the creation of communal music-making rooms where students could borrow a variety of instruments and jam out.
Many groups identified the need to create a community of wellness, in lieu of individualized solutions.
“Especially regarding mental health, it’s so easy to feel alone,” Prabhas KC, a fourth-semester consumer behavior major, said. “It’s so easy to not reach out because you might not feel comfortable talking to your friends, roommate or parents about how you’re feeling.”
KC’s group proposes conducting a campus-wide survey of mental health with the intention of connecting UConn’s most vulnerable students to the services they need. They also propose making a field trip to Student Health and Wellness and Counseling and Mental Health Services a mandatory part of every First Year Experience class’s semester plans.
“It’s a nice way to get students acquainted with the service — makes it familiar and shows them where it’s located so if they ever do need to go, they know where it is, eliminating the barriers to entry in that respect,” KC said.
Ke’iana Beeson, an eighth-semester psychology major, belongs to a group proposing changes to the basement of Homer Babbidge Library. They proposed implementing quiet “siesta rooms” where students can lie on comfy furniture and destress.
“We want to make sure students get the most out of their education through healthy habits and we’re looking to target that through sleep,” Beeson said, alluding to a study showing that 24% of students at UConn have issues getting enough sleep — a figure she believes is conservative.
Other ideas include the creation of a Waze-like app where students can warn their peers if the library is too crowded or share their favorite study-spots.
“It requires student participation in the beginning, but after a bit of time we can take that student participation and analyze it and create averages,” Justin Tomano, a fourth-semester management information systems major, said. “Like when you Google a restaurant and it tells you what hours it’s busiest — we want to do that with study spaces.”
Overseeing the proceedings, Moore is optimistic his students will be successful in bringing UConn students’ stress levels closer to the national average.
“A lot of decisions come from the top, but from our perspective it’s going to be a lot more impactful if we hear what the students really want from the students themselves.”
Nick Smith is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.