January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 44°F


First finalists for new wellness position present to college

The first two of the four final candidates for the newly created Executive Director for Student Wellness position have presented their goals and plans to the campus community.

The goal of the position is to combine the counseling and psychological services, health services, and health promotion on campus into a cohesive model to improve student wellness. The college hosted two open campus presentations from the final four prospects where anyone in the community could listen and provide feedback after the candidates explained their backgrounds and philosophies on health and student wellness. The last two presentations from finalists will be held from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Feb. 20 in Klingenstein Lounge and from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m Feb. 26 in the Taughannock Falls room.

Finalist Sislena Ledbetter, director of counseling and student development at the University of the District of Columbia, gave her perspective on college students’ health needs Feb. 12 in Clarke Lounge. Approximately 15 community members attended.

She said her priorities in the new position would focus on integrated health care, prevention, promotion, space and confidentiality. Ledbetter said she has worked in higher education for the past nine years and has an added perspective as a firstgeneration college student.

“We are starting to reimagine what wellness can be,” Ledbetter said. “It’s all about understanding how to serve the students better.

Ledbetter said she wants to build a more diverse community at the college and focus on strengthening the intersection of mental and physical health. She said it is important for her that the people who work in the Hammond Health Center and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services reflect the diversity in the student body. A strategic priority she mentioned is to get more feedback from students, staff and faculty.

Another finalist for the position, John Dunkle, the executive director of counseling and psychological services at Northwestern University, pitched his ideas on student wellness to approximately 25 community members Feb. 14 in the Emerson Suites. Dunkle emphasized his idea of a “community of care,” which involves all branches of the college community working together to meet the mental and physical health needs of students.

“The idea is that we want to create multiple avenues of to support, Dunkle said. “A lot of students may not come through the doors of the health center first, so we need to develop partnerships.”

Dunkle also stressed the importance of being realistic in what the college says it can and cannot offer. Dunkle said he has seen many colleges claim that their health centers can meet all of their students’ needs when it is really impossible to do so.

“I’ll tell you right now, no campus can offer comprehensive mental health services,” Dunkle said. But, we can do some things to align our resources and scope of practices.”

The search for the position began shortly after Keeling and Associates, the college’s health care provider, published a report in November 2018 that claimed there is no articulated vision or strategy for student health and wellbeing at the college and that there was a lack of organization among the health and wellness services on campus. Not long after the review was published, the college posted an ad for the position of director of student wellness.

Since the review, Keeling and Associates have worked closely with a hiring committee comprised of seven members of the college community, which is being chaired by Susan Bassett, associate vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports. The committee worked to narrow down a wide field of candidates to four finalists.

Bassett said the hiring team is looking for a person who can help define a vision for student health at the college and facilitate collaboration among the community.

“This is really a focus on improving student wellbeing on campus and making sure that we’re providing the best possible services and support for all of our campus community,” Bassett said.

Hierald Osorto, director of religious and spiritual life, attended both Dunkle and Ledbetter’s presentations and said he is impressed by the college’s decision to make improvements to student health services.

“I think it speaks volumes to who Ithaca College is,” Osorto said. “It’s taking bold and courageous steps into whom it knows it needs to be.”

Ryan Bieber can be reached at rbieber@ithaca.edu