Student-Designed Mental Health Campaign and Research Wins International Award

By Jessica Reyes, Assistant Director of Communication
Lawn signs on campus
The Breathe Campaign, a mental health initiative created by two undergraduate students, won a CASE Circle of Excellence bronze award.

Widener University’s Breathe Campaign – a mental health initiative created by two students and their faculty advisor as part of a summer research project last year – has won a CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Circle of Excellence bronze award for communications.

The prestigious award recognizes senior Christiana Dunn and 2020 graduate Michaela Kolenkiewicz, along with their faculty advisor Dr. Angie Corbo, for creating a valuable mental health resources tool on the university’s myWidener intranet portal and then raising awareness about it on campus and beyond.

Breathe resource on cell phone

“To know that the Breathe Campaign will remain for students to keep using to find resources gives me peace of mind,” said Kolenkiewicz, a 2020 graduate who majored in psychology with a dual minor in French and sociology. “I am extremely proud of the hard work everyone put into making Breathe possible. It can now help students for years to come.”

The Circle of Excellence Awards are one of the most prestigious recognitions in higher education communications and marketing. In 2020, CASE received more than 2,750 entries for consideration in 100 categories by 587 institutions from 28 countries.

The judges praised Widener’s student-driven initiative for its simplicity.

“This could easily become a national model for other institutions,” the judges wrote. “We love the creation of a digital tool to grant easy access to those who are vulnerable and those who want to assist them. This is an elegant solution to a problem all college campuses face.”

Dunn, a senior communication studies major with a concentration in public relations and advertising, said the goal was always for the Breathe Campaign to become a model for other universities.

It is amazing seeing our summer research project become a successful campus resource that could potentially save a person’s life. — Christiana Dunn

Last summer, Dunn and Kolenkiewicz began Widener’s Summer Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) program with separate ideas for researching topics related to mental health. They came together to work on a single research theme focused around facilitating difficult conversations about mental health on college campuses, and providing tools for people who, in the midst of those conversations, need guidance on where to turn to help troubled individuals.

Students place Breathe signs

“Our SURCA students tend to be incredibly dedicated to their research projects,” said Associate Professor Angie Corbo, who co-leads the summer research program and is chair of communication studies.  “Anna and Michaela wanted their research to make an immediate difference for Widener students. The Breathe Campaign is a result of innovative thinking, research, application, and collaboration.”

They collaborated with Vice President for Library and Information Services/CIO Eric Behrens and Director of Systems Administration Chris Smith, as well as the university’s counseling center, to create a resource tool available through the university’s intranet portal, in which people could enter a key word that would bring up a list of linked mental health resources at the university and beyond.

Through it, a person who is struggling can type “Breathe” into the portal and find immediate help. Likewise, friends, faculty and staff who know someone who is struggling can use it to locate help when they want to lend a hand but don’t know how.

Then, they launched a public awareness campaign with the help of a communications class, which also provided design assistance for campaign materials. The campaign included three events and campus signage posted before final exams alerting everyone at the university to this new resource.

The campaign and digital tool remains an ongoing, valued resource at the university. The program continues to be promoted through the myWidener portal, especially at high-stress times of year, like mid-term and final exams.

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