Last fall, Virginia Tech implemented a new approach to shaping the experience of students who live on campus. The Residential Well-being (RWB) initiative reorganized staff and resources to bring opportunities and care to first-year students in their residence halls.

With an emphasis on individual well-being, community strength, belonging and inclusion, and awareness of support resources, the Residential Well-being approach relies heavily on peer-to-peer interactions and relationships to improve the way students ExperienceVT.

So, what do students think?

Jolene Ghosh, a sophomore majoring in economics in the College of Science, serves as an ExperienceVT student leader and plans to return each semester until her graduation. “Everyone was interested in how the new system would play out during the year. Coordinators and managing directors worked together to adapt based on feedback from student leaders. The initiative has allowed students to feel a stronger sense of community and belonging within living-learning spaces. Students feel more comfortable reaching out since we have already established connections with them and offered to support them in any way that we can, whether just listening to them talk, validating their feelings, or taking action and providing them with resources. Although the job can be challenging, I have enjoyed this experience and am grateful to have the opportunity to ensure that they have a great first-year experience at Virginia Tech.”

Jamie Short, a first-year student majoring in industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering, will return for his sophomore year as a student leader. Short pinpointed a challenge many new Hokies face: loneliness. “It's difficult to find friends and activities that make you feel worthy and loved, especially in the first semester.” Short said he found his place with the club team XCTF (Xtreme Capture the Flag). “Being able to connect with people daily made it really easy to become a part of each other's lives and spend time together doing something we love. The student leaders in my hall are people I always go to when I need guidance or opinions. They are the reason I applied to be a student leader, and they are why I feel prepared for the rest of my college life.” 

Jesus Santos, a junior majoring in psychology in the College of Science with a minor in adaptive brain and behavior, is an inclusion and belonging student leader returning to that role next semester. “The aspect I feel has worked best in the RWB initiative has been embedded counselors. Having a support system for residents so close to their home has been a great addition to campus and has allowed residents more access to mental health support. Through my training with the Community Resiliency Model, I have a much better sense of empathy and awareness for what’s going on within the community. It also helped me recognize that, to help my residents work through the issues that they are struggling with, I have to ensure my well-being. The extensive training that student leaders underwent has assured me that I will be prepared for all situations. I love the Residential Well-being model and want to help develop it further as a student leader.”

Isreal Preston, a sophomore majoring in statistics in the College of Science with a minor in horticulture, is a well-being student leader and will return to his position next fall. “Having one of our student leaders sitting with the duty phone in a lounge-kitchen area has led to some amazing interactions with students. I got to learn about the many residents through playing Mario Kart in Miles Hall lounge. It has provided a space where Residence Life Resource Officers (RLRO) could interact with residents as well. I witnessed two RLROs destroy some residents in Switch Bowling. I was surprised how a more community-based model, with encouragement to work with fellow student leaders, has led me to improve at being a leader myself.”

Quayvon Nash is a first-year student in the Pamplin College of Business and will return for his sophomore year as a student leader.  “Many first-year students struggle with finding activities to do outside their studies. From an outside perspective, many things can seem exclusive, but it’s honestly surprising how welcoming things are. My student leaders have done an exceptional job at emphasizing their support inventory. I know if there is any issue, I can turn toward them and be taken care of.”

Kennetria Torain, a junior double majoring in biological sciences and psychology in the College of Science, is an inclusion and belonging student leader and is returning to that role in the fall. “This position has been very dynamic. Our criteria and responsibilities sometimes change, but it's always to better serve our residents. I've learned so much and made close connections with my residents, coworkers, and professional staff. Improving residents' well-being has worked really well. We focus on making sure residents know they are people first and not here just to receive a degree. They need to take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally to do well academically. We strive to make residents feel like this is home for them, they belong here, they are safe in their spaces, and they always have someone to talk to.” 

During its inaugural year, daily staff and student reports and frequent assessment have allowed Residential Well-being administrators to evaluate efficacy and make responsive changes along the way. Overall findings include:

  • An increase in residential students feeling a sense of belonging at Virginia Tech
  • Increased exposure to diverse opinions, cultures, and values
  • Increased knowledge of resources on campus, including mental health support
  • An increased belief that there are faculty and staff who care about them.

“Most rewarding have been the stories from students who have connected with others and felt a sense of belonging as well as the data to support significant improvements in the residential experience,” said Amy Epperley, senior director for Hokie Wellness. “There has been tremendous opportunity for learning and growth which has been embraced by everyone. Version 2.0 will be very well informed based on what we have learned this year.”

“We had our highest number of student leaders elect to return to their position for next year, which is a huge vote of confidence in the RWB model,” said Rebecca Caldwell, director for Residential Well-being. “It has been rewarding to deepen our campus partnerships and work together to create caring, higher touch systems. We do believe that care and community focus allows us to identify student needs earlier and connect them to appropriate resources, including our case managers and embedded counselors”

“I truly believe that this model creates a foundation of well-being for our residential students that better serves them, prepares them to be successful in their later years at Virginia Tech, and prepares them for success in life,” said Chris Wise, assistant vice president for Student Affairs’ health and wellness areas.

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