In this month’s episode, “Top Health and Wellness Tips for College Students,” Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast Futureproof Focus, sat down with her colleagues, Dr. Stacey Dutil, director of counseling and wellness, and Omari Wright, athletics Coordinator, for a candid discussion about the mental health of today’s college students and how Vaughn is helping its students stay well, both mentally and physically.

Students’ outlook is looking up

Despite the ongoing mental health and wellness issues reported by students across college campuses, both Dr. Dutil and Wright agree they are seeing an improvement at Vaughn, post-pandemic. “Vaughn students are resilient,” said Dutil. “There’s less stigma surrounding mental health today, as students are more open to talk about it.” And when it comes to diversity, Vaughn has a unique population of students which sets it apart from other college campuses. From first-generation college students and veterans to single parents and those juggling full-time jobs, Vaughn students have their own set of challenges to cope with. “Overall, (post-pandemic) we’re seeing our students’ ability to be more social, and that has a huge impact on their mental health.,” Dr. Dutil said.

What is “imposter syndrome?”

Dr. DeVivo raises the question about “imposter syndrome” as a real challenge that students are facing. This is especially for students who are entering fields dominated by those different from themselves. Thoughts such as, ‘I don’t belong here,’ or ‘You have to see it to be it,’ are sparking conversation to do a better job at demonstrating that everyone is credible and qualified. Fields such as engineering and technology, for example, are male dominated—and predominantly white. For students who don’t fit this profile—but have passion for the field—Dr. Dutil said it’s important to encourage them to build a supportive network through mentorships and clubs and societies with people who look like them and who understand their experience. “It makes a huge difference,” Dr. Dutil said.

Athletic Coordinator Wright weighed in on the topic with a unique angle. “I use athletics to teach life,” said Wright. “It’s about teamwork and working with people from different backgrounds. You have to grow through it and create a community of encouragement and positive energy to find purpose and a sense of belonging with people who look like you.”

How Vaughn is helping students

As Director of Counseling and Wellness at Vaughn for the past four years, Dr. Dutil said helping students of diverse cultures is all about speaking a universal language. “You have to meet people where they are,” she said. “It’s all about building a rapport and having a conversation. When you sit them down, their fear and shame go away.” Here are some of the ways the counseling and wellness department helps Vaughn students:

  • Food pantry: Meet the basic needs of students without any barriers.
  • Case management: Help students with issues such as housing and benefits.
  • Wellness committee: Colleagues collaborate to identify students who have challenges and take a holistic approach to helping them.
  • Residence life: Work with students who may be under distress about being away from home.
  • Guest speakers: Book guest speakers who address wellness and mental health issues.
  • Wellness challenge: Organize fun events to keep students engaged.

From a sports perspective, Wright organized several programs to keep students physically and mentally fit. Here are some of the ways he accomplishes this:

  • Virtual world wellness programs: Organizing boot camps and yoga sessions (women only) to help students with self-expression.
  • Recreational programs: E-sports is a popular platform where students can find areas where they fit in to explore their own talents.

Women’s Warrior Program

Created by Wright, this program was inspired by his mother, who raised him and his three siblings as a single parent. “I wanted to create a stronger infrastructure around women—a community outside of athletics,” he said. It’s based around the notion that: “There’s nothing I can’t do if given the opportunity to do so.” Wright believes: “If you want to go fast through life, then you go by yourself, but if you want to go far in life, then you go with a team.” Here are the highlights and goals of the Women’s Warrior Program for the 2022-2023 school year:

  • Galvanize school spirit: Help different departments create a buzz and awareness of campus events.
  • Get experience and work in different departments: Get your foot in the door and gain experience to include on your résumé.
  • Community service: Get Vaughn’s name out in the community and surround people with positivity. Helps students become well-rounded and gain experience to put on their résumés.

Wellness tips for students

As the fall semester kicks off, Dr. Dutil and Wright are excited to share some of their best wellness tips to prepare students for a great school year ahead.

Dr. Dutil: Be proactive about your mental health and wellness.

  • Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis. Come see us early and get to know us and our services.
  • Have a contingency plan—Preparing for Plan B is always a good idea. You never want to take for granted how things will turn out. Having a contingency plan can help reduce stress and get you to refocus.

Wright: Success is a planned event.

  • Networking can help you find where you belong.
  • Staying active every day helps with your mental and physical well-being. Setting small goals leads to large victories.

Dr. DeVivo concluded the conversation with a tip of her own: “Believe in yourself. You’re way more resilient than you think you are.”

You can watch the podcast in its entirety here.

Read more about how to stay mentally healthy in college here. Feeling a little stressed? Read about how to find your balance here.

With a new semester in full swing and students easing their way back to campus, life at Vaughn College is engaging and fun, thanks to a post-pandemic hybrid learning model that is creating a positive vibe for new and returning students.

This month, we sat down with Dr. Stacey Dutil, director of counseling and wellness at Vaughn, for her outlook on students returning to campus, how Vaughn supports them in their times of need and some tips and advice for staying mentally fit.

Staying connected

A big part of a student’s success in college is making connections and feeling like part of an inclusive, supportive community. At Vaughn, we make this a priority. Dutil explains how the hybrid model that has been instituted this semester allows students to attend classes both virtually and in-person. “It’s been wonderful seeing students connecting with their peers and meeting with their advisors again after being separated during the pandemic,” said Dutil. “Vaughn does a great job keeping students engaged, which helps with any anxiety or stress they may be feeling.”

She describes some valuable ways in which Vaughn is helping students stay mentally healthy while keeping them on track and in a positive groove:

  • Orientation mixers—Vaughn hosted several orientation luncheons/mixers earlier this semester, where students were excited to meet the faculty and staff while hearing all about the upcoming year. “The vibe was upbeat and positive,” Dutil said. “It was great to see happy faces after so many of our students went through a difficult time during the pandemic. Vaughn always puts their students first, and these mixers are just another way the College proves their dedication to their success.”
  • Clubs and organizations—There is life outside of the classroom and joining one or more of Vaughn’s vast selection of clubs and organizations is a great way for students to stay engaged in their fields of study while making friends, networking and building leadership skills. From student clubs and professional organizations to honor societies and intercollegiate athletics, Dutil says clubs and organizations are a big aspect of student life at Vaughn. “There’s something for everyone.”
  • Safe outdoor activities—Vaughn knows the importance of maintaining good mental health. The College hosts several fun and valuable outdoor activities that not only bring students together but also help keep their minds and bodies in shape. Weather permitting, students can enjoy Zumba classes, food trucks and even puppy therapy! Check out our events schedule to see what’s coming up.

Meeting the needs of students

The pandemic affected students and their families harder than anyone could have expected. Dutil explained how Vaughn has several programs in place to help students—and their families—during their times of need. “Hard times can happen to anyone. And at Vaughn, we are here for all of our students to help them the best we can.” She also highlighted the several programs Vaughn has in place to help students who might need extra support to get through the day-to-day.

  • Food pantry—Vaughn’s on-campus food pantry provides meals for students and their families who are struggling to make ends meet. “We remained open, even during the pandemic,” Dutil said. “Thanks to the generosity of our faculty and staff, donations of food and gift cards have helped us meet the basic needs of our students and their families.”
  • Short-term assistance fund (SAF)—Life happens. Vaughn’s short-term assistance fund (SAF) is there when students find themselves in unfortunate situations and are in urgent need of financial assistance. These funds—that are generously donated to Vaughn—are a one-time grant and are slated for assisting students with housing and transportation, food and clothing, and other educational-related items such as books, supplies and tools. Help is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Tips and advice to stay mentally fit

As director of counseling and wellness at Vaughn, Dutil is committed to ensuring that students have all the tools and information they need to stay mentally healthy. She emphasizes two basic and underestimated practices that students—and anyone—should do that will positively impact their everyday living.

  • Get enough sleep—It may sound simplistic but getting enough sleep impacts not only a student’s mood but also significantly improves his or her cognitive focus for retaining information and even helps with metabolism. She suggests that students develop a consistent routine to ensure they’re feeling great and at the top of their games.
  • Stay hydrated—Staying hydrated is more important than one would think. Did you know that water is a natural energy booster that can make a person feel sharper and more alert? Dutil suggests limiting popular energy drinks and opt for water instead.
  • Find time to exercise—Even if it’s just a 20-minute walk after lunch, any kind of exercise can reinvigorate the mind and give students the energy they need to get through their next class or assignment. It’s about making the time for it!

You can get more wellness tips from our popular blog post, “Wellness Tips to Boost Your Energy While Distance Learning.” And, for more lifestyle tips, check out, “Is Distance Learning Closing in on You? Try These Mood-Boosting Tips.”

A message from Dr. Stacey Dutil

Vaughn has a special approach that focuses on students’ needs. Faculty and staff collaborate to reach students on a personal level. By putting a face to the name, we are able to tailor a plan for their success.”

Are you feeling mentally fit this semester? If you need someone to talk to or want more information on staying mentally healthy, we encourage you to make an appointment at the office of counseling and wellness.