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December 8, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Last finalists for new wellness position present to college

The last two of four final candidates for the newly established Executive Director for Student Wellness position gave their pitches to the Ithaca College campus community.

The first two finalists presented Feb. 12 and Feb. 14. The position was created following a review of the counseling and health and wellness services on campus last November. The goal of the position is to provide oversight of the college’s wellness services.

The third candidate for the newly created Executive Director for Student Wellness position, Keba Rogers, gave a presentation to the campus community Feb. 20 in Klingenstein Lounge. Dave Maley, director of public relations, said The Ithacan could not take photos of or interview finalists for the position, despite it being advertised as an open and public search process, because the presentation sessions are not “media events” geared toward giving media special access to candidates.

Rogers is currently the director of counseling and wellness at Brearley School in New York City. Approximately a dozen members of the community attended her presentation and the Q&A session that followed. Rogers began by discussing some of her work in previous positions and some of the areas she felt colleges needed to address in terms of mental health.

She talked about how she felt it was important to develop programs that could help specific groups on campus, like students of color, LGBTQ students and student athletes, who historically have struggles with mental health on college campuses either because of their workload or societal taxations.

“Historically, those are populations that you want to try to go to for small group work instead of asking them to come to you,” she said.

She also talked about the importance of helping students improve their own personal self-awareness and self-management skills.

“Many folks are not fully aware of their own emotionsthey really also can’t recognize their strengths, struggle with self-confidence or just as importantly self-efficacy,” she said. “It’s a little disturbing how little self-awareness our students and adults have.”

Rosanna Ferro, vice president for student affairs and campus life, asked how Rogers would market the wellness services to the college community. Rogers said it would involve working with different constituencies on campus to bring awareness to students.

“Usually when there is a new initiative that is campus-wide, students are trying to figure out how that fits in with them,” she said. “I think part of it is education and doing [initiatives] around campus to encourage students to participate.”

One of the audience members asked her about her thoughts on the recent external review of the college’s health services programs.

Rogers said she wanted more information about a few different issues the report raised.

“What I’ve learned from reading a lot of executive reports is that there is always a lot more information that I don’t know,” she said. “Executive reports are a summary, and sometimes there is not of explanation about why that’s the summary.”

Rogers said that after visiting the counseling space, she agreed with some of the recommendations in the report about how the space could be used differently. She said she has not been around the program at the college long enough to determine whether or not she agrees with some of the recommendations about increasing staff size. She also said that it was something that she definitely felt needed to be looked into and that she agreed with the recommendation to add the new executive director position because she felt it would bring more cohesion to wellness services on campus.  

“Outside of the fact that I want the role, I think, in general, it is a great idea to have someone that is specifically not only helping the community to understand wellness and how it permeates, but to also advocate for and support the staff that is currently doing the work,” she said.

The final candidate for the Executive Director for Student Wellness position, Suzy Harrington, gave her presentation to the community Feb. 26 in the Taughannock Falls Room.

Harrington is currently the executive director of health and well-being at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta. She described health and wellness as a lifestyle and emphasized the need for wellness programs to be as proactive as possible to not only react to health and wellness issues students have at the college, but to prevent them from happening.

She cited data from Gallup, a consulting company, that suggested a sense of purpose is the number one driver of student academic success in higher education. She said one of the most important factors in determining individual well-being comes down to personal commitment.

“Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own health and well-being,” she said. “Our students are responsible for their own health and well-being. Is it easy? Absolutely not.”

She also said that having a positive environment and culture is important for students to thrive, and she praised the college for working to better align the three safety nets in the area of health and wellness: the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, health services and the Center for Health Promotion.  

“The very first priority is to put them all together so that they’re one cohesive team and not working in the traditional model of isolation and silos,” she said. “Unity is not the same as uniformity. It’s not about making every area all the same because every area has a different point of continuum for health and well-being.”

One suggestion she gave for how the three services could be more cohesive was having medical records shared between departments in order to increase efficiency. She also emphasized the need for students to have easier access points to wellness services on campus to help guide students to the services they need.

“It would be good to have a single access point that meets the needs of students and then directs them to where they need to go,” she said. “That’s part of starting that process within the department of health and well-being.”

In addition to increasing cohesion between the wellness services on campus, she also said she wants to strengthen partnerships with other departments outside of wellness on campus.

Susan Bassett, associate vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics and chair of the search committee for the new executive director position, said she has been impressed with the finalists for the position.

“I think all the candidates are great,” she said. “They’re meeting a lot of people while they are here, so we are gathering a lot of feedback, and Dr. Ferro will make a decision.”

Bassett said there is no firm date for when the final decision will be made about who will get the position but anticipates it will be announced within the next couple weeks.

Ryan King can be reached at rking5@ithaca.edu