OGDEN — Like society generally, the Weber State community has undergone a significant transition in the last two weeks, as courses have transitioned online for the remainder of the semester.
But the university is not just looking to support student academic success in a new environment — it’s also seeking to support students’ emotional well-being during these times of uncertainty.
Jim Hutchins, a professor in Weber State’s Department of Health Sciences, teaches courses like medical terminology and human anatomy and physiology, prerequisites for the university’s health professions programs like nursing and laboratory sciences.
While Hutchins wants his students to be successful in their courses, he says his primary concern right now is their emotional well-being.
Many younger Weber State students, he says, have not come through the other side of a national crisis like the coronavirus pandemic they’re currently experiencing.
At 61, Hutchins said he’s experienced a lot, and he also has memories of his parents telling stories from the Great Depression and World War II.
“I am reflecting on that a lot because now I am the old guy. ... (My parents are) gone now, and I realized that it’s ... my responsibility to take on that role and say, ‘You know, we’ve been through things like this before. ... If we play it right, if we do the right things and all pull together, then we’ll get through this stronger than how we came into it.’”
He has sent messages to his students “letting them know that ... I’m here for them and that they can ... count on me as an older adult who’s been through things before,” Hutchins said, “and so as a result, (I have) experience relevant to them maybe in a way that they haven’t needed before.”
This isn’t to say everything will be okay, since bad things will certainly happen, he said. But collectively, he thinks we can learn something about ourselves and each other throughout the difficult process.
“It’ll be better on the other side,” he said.
He’s not the only faculty member at Weber State taking similar steps. The leadership of one department is discussing plans to personally contact each of their 1,100-plus students, likely through phone or email, she said.
There are also formal efforts to support student well-being.
Weber State’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center has moved all individual counseling sessions online, said Tamara Robinette, outreach coordinator with the center. The center is only to do this with students who have already participated in at least one in-person appointment, she said.
“We’re not able to take new students on in this (virtual) context, because we can’t meet with them and really accurately assess how they’re doing,” Robinette said.
However, the university already offers a digital mental health tool to all students and faculty called TAO (Therapy Assistance Online).
TAO has nine topics, each with 12-18 modules. For this situation, Robinette recommends looking through the resources in the “Calm Your Worry” section.
The platform is free for students if they sign up with their university email address, but individuals can also sign up for a fee, according to the TAO website at www.taoconnect.org.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, TAO has also made its library of mindfulness exercises free to the public.
In addition to these online tools, the center does have a list of resources and referrals on its website at weber.edu/counselingcenter/resources, which students can use to reach out to other community agencies and private providers, Robinette said. Community agencies are likely in the same situation as the center when it comes to taking on new clients, though, she said.
The center’s website also has a list of resources for students in crisis, including a link to the SafeUT app, where licensed mental health counselors are available for anyone in crisis to contact by text and phone (833-372-3388).
For those who need some reassurance, Robinette said she recommends focusing on what you can control, regularly participating in activities you love and looking for creative ways to maintain social connection.
“If you feel more out of control, your anxiety goes up and your depression also can take greater hold,” Robinette said.
“So (keep) a focus on ‘What can I control? What is within my reach?’” Robinette continued. “And part of that is just taking it a day at a time. ... Today is Saturday. If I pull my mind into the day I am in, suddenly it feels possible. I probably can manage Saturday.”