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Editor’s note: This story is part of our MC faculty and staff series in which professors and/or staff discuss relevant topics within their areas of expertise. Carmen Poston Travis is the Director of Student Affairs and Initiatives, of which the Student Health and Wellness (SHaW) Center is part.

By Carmen Poston Travis

The SHaW Center has offered curbside pickup since last summer

Supporting students’ physical and mental well-being is why Montgomery College’s Student Health and Wellness (SHaW) Center for Success exists. Addressing students’ needs holistically is vital to their success—and the framework by which the SHaW Center operates includes four focus areas: mental health wellness; health, human services, and nutrition; health and safety education; and physical health wellness. The goal is to identify, provide, and connect students to resources to support their success. Within the areas, there are many programs, initiatives, events, and activities that support students. There is a substantial emphasis on addressing students’ basic needs.

Survey Demonstrates Needs Gap

Researchers have recently begun to study and report on the basic needs of students in higher education. Student affairs professionals and practitioners, as well as academicians, understand firsthand how fundamental needs impact student success. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice and Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab led research to help stakeholders understand the level of deficiency students experience when it comes to meeting their basic needs. Montgomery College, one of the partner schools in the Hope Center’s research, participated in their #RealCollege surveys. The most recent survey, a multi-institutional measure, assessed the pandemic’s impact on students by exploring basic needs security and related challenges.

the SHaW Center provides collegewide mobile food markets and pop-up food pantries at least once a month on each campus.

The 2020 report revealed that 63 percent of Montgomery College surveyed experienced at least one type of basic needs insecurity, whether food, housing, or homelessness, compared to 58 percent of peer institutions, and 58 percent overall. Among other challenges these students face, noticeably, 51 percent of the students surveyed experienced at least moderate anxiety, compared to 49 percent of peer institutions and 50 percent overall.

Addressing Basic Needs Insecurity

Supported by this report, what faculty, staff, and administrators suspected, heard, and know anecdotally, the SHaW Center’s work is more vital than ever. Based on the findings, the SHaW Center not only continues to offer necessary services, but also has expanded its reach, to address students’ basic needs and mental health wellness. In the area of basic needs, the Fuel for Success Food Campaign identifies and connects students to food programs throughout the county. In keeping with social distancing guidelines that require contactless food curbside and drive through events, the SHaW Center provides collegewide mobile food markets and pop-up food pantries at least once a month on each campus. Students are also able to apply for emergency food assistance. In addition, the center launched the initial phase of the new Social Resource program, created to identify, connect, and provide College students resources associated with human and social services—both internal and external. This program provides students with emergency supports associated with housing and living expenses, including instructional materials, thanks to a recent $75,000 grant funded by Lockheed Martin during the pandemic.

Carmen Poston Travis

For mental health wellness, in addition to activities designed to decrease stress and anxiety, such as Mindful Mondays and Brain Break, the center expanded virtual support groups by licensed professional counselors. These groups for students occur weekly.

Coming in February, the SHaW Center staff advanced trainers will facilitate the first eight-week online Mind-Body Medicine skills group. These online groups provide evidence-based skills including self-awareness, self-care, and self-expression that will enable participants to create a comprehensive, individualized program helping them to remain balanced and resilient as they meet the challenges that the Coronavirus pandemic brings (as cited by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine).

Physical health wellness contributes greatly to mental health wellness. According to the University of New Hampshire’s Health and Wellness website, working out can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and prevent and manage stress. So, the SHaW Center continues to offer its popular belly dancing and Zumba online classes.

Having the asset of the SHaW Center for Success established before the pandemic, the College was well positioned to support students. Because the framework and support services existed, it was easy to pivot to remote or contactless services. These services support the College’s promise to be MC Strong, MC Proud, and MC Resilient.

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