Hope and Connection: An institution-wide effort to strengthen online social support and improve students’ mental health

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Brief Abstract

Experiencing the pandemic's ongoing stress among faculty, students, and staff, the university launched an institution-wide initiative called Hope and Connection to strengthen its online communities' support and highlight mental health awareness. Come to share and discuss the different ways to engage students virtually and the learnings we discover!


Dr. Iverson currently serves as Associate Provost and VP of the Academic and Faculty Affairs department at Capella University. She leads multiple teams with broad responsibilities and critical portfolios in driving learner experience, faculty performance, academic program quality, and outcomes. Dr. Iverson regularly drives enterprise-level initiatives and partners with internal and external stakeholders in a highly matrixed environment. She has a diverse background in corporations, city and state government, healthcare, and higher education, with extensive experience and expertise in organizational effectiveness, leadership development, and change management. Originally from China, Dr. Iverson received her MA in Comparative and International Development Education and a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Curtis Brant is the Dean of the Research & Scholarship and oversees Capella’s doctoral programs. Dr. Brant has served as a core faculty member, faculty chair, associate dean, and Dean. His professional background is in organizational consulting, decision-making, strategic planning, research, and assessment. Dr. Brant earned his B.A. in Psychology from Kent State University and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Bowling Green State University. His concentration while at Bowling Green was in Decision-Making and Quantitative Analyses.

Extended Abstract

This session focuses on an online university’s attempts to address the on-going COVID-related impact on its communities, including faculty, students, and staff. The institution takes a comprehensive, multi-facet approach to engage students and provide different ways to build resiliency and support mental health wellbeing in a virtual environment. It is important, timely topic for higher education institutions to work together and share effective practices for helping students and others. It also brings ideas to the institutions new to online offerings regarding student engagement and support.


Providing support for mental health well-being has never been more critical as the impacts of the pandemic and other stressors over the last couple of years have taken a toll on everyone, including our students, faculty, and staff. The unique challenge addressed in this presentation is how to authentically connect, empathize, and support the whole person from a distance. 

The Intervention (offered fully remote)

As part of the university’s Hope & Connection campaign, the university sponsored a series of co-curricular events and training opportunities to engage the university community in discussion of stress, coping, self-care, and mental and physical well-being. Additionally, the university implemented changes in process and expectations to allow faculty and staff the time and space to support the student’s whole self. Members of the community were invited to join in a series of synchronous sessions and ongoing online discussions supporting the campaign. A place on the virtual campus was created to house resources, session recordings, and community discussions. Faculty were encouraged to modify courses to build time for contemplation and action to support mental and physical wellness.

The interactivities for this session include

  1. Ask the audience to share their observations on the mental stress and COVID related impact on their communities (faculty, students, and staff). Depending on the size of the participants, they may be organized into small groups.
  2. Ask the audience to share what their institutions have done to address mental health awareness and to provide additional student support in a virtual or on-ground environment. Discuss success and/or relevant obstacles in their situation.
  3. Participants will begin building an action plan for their institutions


Takeaways for the audience

  1. Understand and share COVID-related impact on the online communities of faculty, students, and staff.
  2. Share and learn ways to support students and faculty in a virtual environment.
  3. Discuss and plan for actions that are relevant to their institutions.