College is a time of new beginnings. It’s a time of excitement, of opportunity, and of adventure. But it can also be a time of vulnerability. It can be a time of stress and anxiety. And when you’re in new surroundings, it’s easy to feel alone.
Many students face challenges during college that can interfere with their success. Whether it’s academic stress, mental health issues, unexpected life events, or financial problems, these challenges add a layer of complexity to their college experience.
Franklin & Marshall College has a plethora of resources available to assist students with whatever situation they’re facing. However, many students don’t know these programs are available.
So, how do we get the word out?
“A lot of colleges and universities are recognizing the need for resource coordinators on their campuses, especially for students who have more complex cases,” said Susan Knoll, care coordinator at F&M.
F&M responded to this need by creating DipCares, a program that ensures students are aware of resources, that faculty and staff know how to help students who are experiencing distress, and that no student feels alone.
Whether students are facing homesickness or isolation, crises or life traumas, anxiety or depression, they can turn to DipCares to discover the resources across campus available to them. And how exactly do they learn about DipCares? Through the posters all over the campus, DipCares wallet holders and stress balls, DipCare sessions during orientation, house adviser (HA) trainings, and, especially, referrals.
Before F&M established DipCares, faculty, counselors, and others would do everything they could to support students through challenging times. However, they’d often find themselves in over their heads and unable to fully meet students’ needs. Now, they can make a referral to DipCares and the team can use the referrals to organize the proper prevention, intervention, and support efforts across campus.
“We reach out to the student within an hour or so of getting a referral,” Knoll said. “We’ve really streamlined the way we get support out to students.”
Carol de Wet, Dr. E. Paul & Frances H. Reiff professor of geosciences and a Cooperman/Hamilton Scholars Mentor, noted how DipCares has transformed the way she supports her students.
“Before serving as a mentor, I hadn’t realized how complex some student issues are,” she said. “I’ve turned to Susan and the DipCares team on multiple occasions. Her knowledge and expertise provide a sound basis for advice and assistance to all those who seek it. Susan and the DipCares team have smoothed many a rocky student path, and solved many thorny problems with caring thoughtfulness; all part of what makes F&M such a special place!”
Knoll noted it’s important to acknowledge that not all students who are struggling are going to be referred or even be receptive to intervention. That is why her primary goal is to ensure that students know that help is available whenever they need it.
Now that this award-winning program has been in place for more than a year, DipCares is evaluating data to learn more about who is being referred and how they can intervene more promptly and improve the program as needed. For instance, Knoll noted their number one referral source is faculty, and their most frequent referrals are first-years.
“This tells us first-years are struggling with the transition from secondary settings to higher-ed settings,” Knoll said. “It’s a very vulnerable time.”
DipCares will continue to offer training to faculty, HAs, parents, and others; raise awareness about resources available to students; and provide support and guidance to all students during challenging times.
“We’ve tried to normalize struggle, stress, and anxiety and all the things that come with college life,” Knoll said. “The biggest thing is that students feel there’s nothing wrong with them. If they’re going through a really hard time, we want them to know they’re not alone.”