Multiple assessments provide insight to student wellness needs

Student health and wellness began gathering information more than a year ago on ways to improve students' health and well-being. Leaders from the unit -- recreation services, student wellness, student counseling services and Thielen Student Health Center -- shared key findings with faculty and staff during a recent online panel discussion. The information will inform health promotion strategies and help develop a health and wellness strategic plan.

More discussion

A panel next spring will focus on strategies faculty and staff can use to embed student well-being into their work.

"We talk a lot about bringing a public health approach to a lot of these issues that impact students," said student wellness director Brian Vanderheyden. "This gives us the information to have a multifaceted approach to address it."

The university has a strong commitment to service delivery and resources and wants to find a better balance of proactive approaches, Vanderheyden said.

Needs assessment

A three-part needs assessment included:

  • Collecting three years' worth of student surveys on health and well-being from departments and units across campus to review what data are available and what is not being collected.
  • A review of 40 professional publications for best practices and strategies for an institutional approach to health and well-being. The process netted 181 strategies and spurred "a self-assessment of where we are and where we can grow," Vanderheyden said.
  • An on-campus focus group study of 201 ISU students in spring 2021. 

A complete report on the needs assessment is expected by the end of the semester.

Focus groups

Two hundred one students were separated into 27 focus groups based on how they identified in one or more of 11 populations, ranging from LGBTQ+ to students with disabilities and first-generation students. Each focus group had four to 13 students.

Students responded to questions in four areas:

  • General well-being and basic needs
  • Mental health
  • Power-based personal violence
  • Substance use

Meeting basic needs and well-being included faculty keeping an open line of communication and providing flexibility with classes when challenges arise. Students asked for more awareness of mental health options and an effort to reduce the stigma around them. Results showed a desire for more counselors -- and increased diversity of counselors -- in student counseling services to reduce wait times.

"Those things are impacting all of our students in some way, and they are usually not struggling with one thing, but multiple things," Vanderheyden said. "Students talked about increased education and knowledge around those issues so faculty and staff are aware and can help them get connected to support."

Vanderheyden said faculty and staff can include practices in their lessons that promote student health and wellness. For example, slides at the beginning or end of lectures that promote resources or creating an assignment that checks in on student well-being. Faculty and staff also can attend Cyclone Support Training and use materials to increase connection to support.

Students also advocated for more training, awareness and resources for the campus community to help them feel safer. Increasing the number of SafeRide vehicles and routes would enhance feelings of safety on campus, especially at night.

To combat substance use, students asked for more events that do not include alcohol, especially on weekends. Student health and wellness began to address this with the first substance-free tailgate during a Saturday home football game this fall.

"It was successful. More than 100 students stopped by and gave a lot of positive feedback," Vanderheyden said. "We are creating a group that will work on that long term."


Vanderheyden shared general findings from the three pieces of the assessment:  

  • Most data look at risk factors and prevalence of an issue, leaving an opportunity to focus on what creates health among students.
  • Much of the response and infrastructure is focused on service delivery for students in need, not health promotion. ISU needs both as part of a comprehensive approach to enhance its health promotion infrastructure.
  • The university lacks an overarching public health approach -- for example, creating a health and well-being strategic plan.
  • There are disparities in health across student populations, particularly among marginalized student populations.