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The partnership was developed by Kevin Serig, student disabilities counselor, working with Northwood’s Ed Nolan, director of operations, and others, after Serig determined such a need existed at Northern.
After a decade of service, Serig left West Virginia Vocational Rehabilitation Services two years ago to take the counselor position at Northern. He said he came to WVNCC no stranger to the needs of students in the Ohio Valley but, he explained, he did not expect to see the volume of students whose mental health issues led them to his office door.
CJ Farnsworth, WVNCC’s director of academic student support services, who is Serig’s supervisor, said, “Kevin was quick to connect student retention and success with mental health and wellness. The complicated lives and diverse social dynamics of college students today make it difficult for many students to cope with the competing demands, tough decisions and personal challenges they face while pursuing a college degree.”
Farnsworth added, “Gone are the days when high school graduates scooted off to a liberal arts college to become well-rounded individuals and ‘sow their oats’ on mom and dad’s dime. Changes in the economy and workforce are redefining post-secondary education,” she said.
Serig said, “Unfortunately, these changes are taking a toll on students.” He said research confirms one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 has a diagnosable mental illness. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year. It is expected these numbers will continue to rise, Serig said.
Alarmed by these statistics and the students showing up at his office door, Serig decided something needed to be done. With the problem identified, he focused on formulating a solution. After reaching out to social work colleagues at Northwood Health Systems, the partnership was developed and details formulated on exactly how WVNCC students could be referred, seamlessly, to NHS regardless of insurance coverage or financial hardship.
In addition, the partnership with Northwood led to awarding of a WVNCC Foundation grant that will allow students suffering from mental health issues to have immediate access to intervention, deterring the kind of escalation and exacerbation that could interfere with degree completion, Serig explained.
“I want our students to know, when things get tough, they are not alone,” Serig said. There is someone they can go to who will support them without judgment.” Serig believes that “most of us struggle to find balance and wellness at points in our lives. College places many demands on students and often requires they leave their comfort zones. It also creates another role, the role of student, for many who are already spouses, parents, caregivers, employees, unemployed – feeling overwhelmed, out-of-control and alone are not uncommon.”
Serig said he hopes this partnership with Northwood “will provide some relief to WVNCC students who are working hard to keep-it-together while moving forward with their lives. We are here for our students – inside and outside the classroom,” he said.