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Fisher Among Six Colleges and Universities Piloting Mental Health Innovation

November 21, 2022

As mental health on college campuses continues to be a top priority, St. John Fisher University has joined with five New York colleges and universities to bring an innovative program to higher education with the goal of better supporting the well-being of their campus communities.

Fisher, along with Nazareth College, Elmira College, SUNY Brockport, Northeast College of Health Sciences, and Le Moyne College are all part of the pilot initiative to bring the Consortium on Trauma, Illness, & Grief, or TIG, to their institutions.

While higher education supports students’ mental health and wellness through individual counseling models, student engagement, and other initiatives, this is the first inter-institutional model that supports the mental health and wellness of students, faculty, and staff. The TIG in Higher Education initiative, which launched in spring 2022, is a partnership with the Upstate New York College Collaboration (UNYCC) and Coordinated Care Services, Inc., (CCSI), the organization that delivers the trauma response program to assist institutions in effectively responding to the challenges facing students and campuses more broadly. 

Each of the six pilot higher education institutions designated a team of up to 10 professionals who participated in a 40-hour training series which includes evidence-based crisis response skills. The inaugural higher education group finished training this summer. The TIG approach is based on a trauma-informed response model that goes beyond questioning and teaches the participants how to be aware of trauma, illness, and grief on a larger scale. The modules include grief and loss, trauma, suicide risk and intervention, chronic and acute illness, school violence, TIG implementation, and critical incident stress management.

Deb Salamone, senior consultant and lead facilitator at CCSI notes, “When a significant or traumatic event occurs, whether on campus or in the community, state, country, or world, we all experience its impact to some degree. Repercussions can have a long-lasting, negative effect on employees, students, and the larger campus community. Institutions of higher education can play a significant role in response and recovery from events. The ‘TIG in Higher Education’ model supports institutions’ growth in knowledge and skills for prevention, intervention, and recovery.”

The TIG curriculum has proven itself to be very successful in the K-12 setting. It originated as a collaborative project in 2001 in Monroe County. The shared purpose of the founding partners was to increase school personnel’s ability to support students and staff in times of individual or collective crisis. Now in its 21st year, TIG has only grown in its dedication to preparing staff and institutions to understand, intervene, and support students. TIG mitigates the risk for longer-term difficulties in achievement, engagement, relational, and wellness indicators.

In collaboration with campus leaders, this evidence-based curriculum has now been revised by the CCSI team to meet the specific needs of a collegiate population.

“Institutions of higher education are an excellent setting to adopt this highly-collaborative and evidence-based model known as TIG response,” said Rebecca Kieffer, director of Fisher’s Health and Wellness Center and chair of UNYCC’s Student Wellness Community of Practice. “Having the ability to respond to situations that could occur on campus, in a trauma-informed way, is the ultimate goal. The outcome is that each campus will be prepared and can support its community as a whole.” 

One major goal of the pilot experience includes the formation of a UNYCC working group that is trained in, and adopts, TIG’s strategy of sharing resources to benefit participating institutions beyond what could be achieved individually. Additionally, as a result of this pilot experience, these colleges and universities will have developed the capacity to diminish the impact of significant events in higher education environments.

“The work with TIG has deepened the collaboration within and across institutions as we problem-solve, share expertise, and expand the breadth of resources supporting students,” said Suronda Gonzalez, executive director of UNYCC. “We all win as we build capacity. And, at the same time, we’ve developed a great partnership with CCSI, and we are continuing to learn from one another.”

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