George Mason University


News at Mason

Students create pathways for improved campus healthcare

June 1, 2018   /   by Damian Cristodero

Student Health Advisory Board President Rasheda Elsamahi and Joe Russell, one of the board's founders, man a table outside the Johnson Center. Photo by Kate Sheridan.

By the time students return to George Mason University for the fall 2018 semester, a website should be available to them that will provide modules with coping strategies for depression, anxiety, pain management and substance abuse.

It also will include a messaging feature that will remind students to stay engaged with George Mason’s office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Key to picking the correct vendor and credit for suggesting the messaging feature goes to the Student Health Advisory Board, CAPS executive director Rachel Wernicke said.

“They sat in on the demos,” Wernicke said of the evaluations that ended with Mason contracting with Tao Connect as the vendor. “They brought up points I wouldn’t have thought about. I so appreciate them.”

The student-run advisory board is only two years old, but its relative newness has not hampered its impact.

The group, with a 26-member board split into working units, regularly meets with CAPS, the Student Support and Advocacy Center, Student Health Services and the office of Disability Services, all part of University Life.

“We are that sounding board to make sure administrators are aware of the expectations of their offices from a student perspective,” said government and international politics major Joe Russell, a founding member, who graduated in May. “And we’re an intermediary to help try out different services and figure out which might be used by a student.”

The student advisory board communicates through its kiosk at the Johnson Center, email, fliers, lawn signs and Facebook to help ensure sure students know all of their campus healthcare options.

It also helps with events such as “Paws for a Cause,” which was recently held on the Fairfax Campus to explain to students, faculty and staff how to interact with service, therapy and emotional support animals.

The organization’s biggest impact, though, is collecting information from students about their healthcare needs and expectations, and relaying that information to Mason administrators. The information comes from surveys handed out in the Johnson Center at campus events and on the group’s Facebook page. This year’s survey received 638 responses, said board vice president Will Jennette, a senior conflict analysis and resolution major.

“We’re really there to be the voice of the students in these processes,” said board president Rasheda Elsamahi, a junior conflict analysis and resolution major.    

“A phenomenal group of students,” said Linn Jorgenson, University Life’s associate dean of students. “Their data collection of the student body is pretty amazing. To get 500 or 600 responses from a survey, that’s pretty awesome.”

Tangible results such as the new CAPS website make it all worthwhile.

“We had a chance to sit down with Rachel [Wernicke] and lay out a series of concerns students had about CAPS,” Russell said. “The process was too difficult to manage. It was too hard to access services. She took a lot of this feedback and started a conversation with us about ways CAPS could extend their services.”

“[Students] can always come in and see a counselor,” Wernicke said. “But especially at times when we have high demand, this is a way we’re getting you connected.”