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Penn's newest wellness initiative urges schools to collaborate on mental health solutions

Penn’s newest wellness initiative urges schools to collaborate on mental health solutions

Credit: Christine Lam

Penn launched an online challenge this week calling on students, faculty, and staff to submit ideas to enhance wellness on campus. The project, titled the “Your Big Idea” challenge, also allows people to view, rate, and comment on all of the suggestions. 

Submissions for the challenge — which total more than 200 ideas so far — include ideas such as hiring staff to support long-term therapy at Counseling and Psychological Services, setting aside areas in academic buildings for napping, and making all freshmen courses on a pass/fail grading scale. The challenge is Penn’s most expansive wellness initiative since the creation of Student Wellness Services, the umbrella organization for CAPS, Student Health Service, Campus Health, Penn Violence Prevention, and Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives.

The wellness project was first announced in an email sent to all students, faculty, and staff on Feb. 4.

“We want you to think big. We’re looking for creative ideas for services, programs, amenities, and resources to strengthen Penn wellness,” the email read. “Proposals that cross departments and Schools are strongly encouraged.”

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Anyone with a PennKey can submit an idea on the challenge‘s website until March 1. A committee of 13 students, faculty, and staff will vote for the semi-finalists, who will then formalize their pitches with the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation. The semi-finalists will then present in front of a larger group of students, faculty, and staff. Everyone who participates will be entered into a lottery for three chances to win an Apple Watch, and the final winning ideas will be chosen in late April. The ideas will then be implemented. 

Credit: Cindy Chen

Benoit Dubé is Penn’s Chief Wellness Officer.

The challenge is led by Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé and Faculty Senate Chair Jennifer Pinto-Martin with support from the Center for Health Care Innovation. Pinto-Martin said the ratings are taken into consideration when the committee is deciding the semi-finalists in early March. 

Pinto-Martin said she came up with the idea to launch a challenge from her work as a fellow with the Center for Health Care Innovation. There, she learned about their yearly challenge that asks the public to brainstorm ways to improve a specific topic related to health care.

“It’s been my position that we have to start from a place of humility and remember there has been a lot of great things going on,” Dubé said. “Some of the good things that are going on actually can be across the street in the [Penn Medicine] health system.” 

Pinto-Martin said she brought her crowdsourcing challenge idea to Provost Wendell Pritchett’s Wellness Advisory Group in September 2018. The details of the “Your Big Idea” challenge were developed by a committee of students, faculty, and staff.

Undergraduate Assembly representative and College junior Simon Miller, who serves on the committee that finalized the challenge, said the competition is valuable not only for choosing winning projects, but also to gather more ideas and feedback, which other campus groups can adopt.

Jennifer Pinto-Martin is the Chair of Penn’s Faculty Center. (Photo from Jennifer Pinto-Martin)

“I really love this project,” Miller said. “I really believe that this is something that can really help improve wellness on campus, especially since it’s really getting ideas from everywhere.”

“The more ideas we get, the better it is for everyone,” he added.

GAPSA Student Life Committee Chair and Penn Franklins Founder Matthew Lee, who is also a fourth-year Nursing Ph.D. student, said while the contest is about “addressing problems across Penn,” he encouraged Dubé to separate the affiliation portion of the application into undergraduate and graduate students to identify their separate ne.

Lee said, however, that the contest is only open for a month and was not heavily advertised, adding that there could have been a launch party to further promote the project.

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College senior Samantha Hernandez, who is also a member of Penn Benjamins, agreed that the challenge could have benefited from better publicity, particularly the fact that students can comment and rate submissions.

For President of the Undergraduate Assembly and College senior Michael Krone, crowd-sourcing ideas and allowing people to rate them gives students a greater say in improving mental wellness on campus.

“I think this contest provides an opportunity for students who don’t necessarily have a voice in the wellness conversation,” Krone said.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.

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