Virginia Tech announced as the first Certified Digitally Well University
Virginia Tech was recently named the first Certified Digitally Well University for its transformational work in cultivating a positive digital culture among students and faculty. This recognition was given by the Digital Wellness Institute, a global leader in digital wellness education and certification focused on mitigating the risks of technology overuse.
Virginia Tech’s proactive approach to student well-being comes at a crucial time, when the broader impacts of Big Tech on society, and young people more specifically, continue to take center stage in national headlines.
"We have an opportunity to help ourselves and our students embrace a life where we don’t feel tethered to devices,” said Frances Keene, vice president for Student Affairs. “Together, we can build an environment that fosters healthy relationships with our devices while allowing ourselves space to focus on our well-being."
According to the 2021 National College Health Assessment, almost three quarters of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress. Coupled with the impacts of device use, which range from decreased ability to focus, decreased quality of sleep, and decreased productivity, today’s students are facing an increasingly challenging set of circumstances.
“I am on my tech 24 hours a day,” said Michael Bailey, a sophomore cybersecurity major in Pamplin College of Business. “Without even thinking about it, I’d put my earphones on and isolate myself in my room. I was having trouble focusing on school work with all of my Discord notifications on.”
According to Laurie Fritsch, assistant director for Hokie Wellness, stories like this were all too common and the reason she originally created the Unwind Offline program.
“When I began this work in 2017, it started as an observation in how college students were interacting with one another and their phones and grew from there,” said Fritsch. “To be named the First Digitally Well University six years later is truly an honor.”
More recently, Fritsch partnered with Christina Crook, digital wellness expert and author of “Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World,” to pioneer a JOMO(campus) campaign that would increase awareness around digital overuse and center individual and collective well-being.
Fritsch and Crook collaboratively developed a series of evidence-informed programs, an awareness campaign, assessment, and educational resources that equipped students to take back control of their device usage.
“I think what we’re seeing at Virginia Tech is so exciting,” said Crook. “We’ve seen solid student engagement in our first round of pilot programs. [Students] want to keep doing the work and moving forward.”
One of these programs was a four-week digital well-being challenge where students were given tools and strategies to intentionally use their tech while prioritizing their academic success and overall well-being. According to pre- and post-assessment results, 73.8 percent of participating students reported a behavior change, such as not using their phone while in class or spending time with friends.
“One of the challenges was to have lunch without your phone,” said Bianca Campos, a junior biomedical engineering major. “We just put our phones away, and it was a good time. I feel like sometimes you can get distracted, especially while you’re eating. Having that ability to actually engage with a friend, that was good.”
Campos said their conversation felt more elaborate because they weren’t multitasking on their phones.
“You’re really more engaged in what they’re saying,” said Campos. “I feel like it’s a major difference when you put your phone away.”
At its core, digital well-being is about students feeling empowered to align their values with their actions, using their devices in ways that support their personal goals, and reconsidering the role of their devices when they’re being called to connect with the physical world.
“Digital well-being affects the mental health and academic success of students at Virginia Tech and globally,” said Fritsch. “It is my hope to be able to share our insights and approaches with other universities, so that when students graduate, they do so with digital well-being skills that enable them to be productive and develop meaningful relationships.”
The Digital Wellness Institute reserves this recognition for institutions that:
Appoint a digital wellness champion on campus and/or a director of digital wellness
Offer digital wellness education to students
Measure digital flourishing of students
Integrate digital wellness awareness into the classroom and promote it throughout the campus environment
Develop positive digital practices for faculty
Serve on the Coalition for Collegiate Digital Well-being
"We are thrilled to recognize Virginia Tech as the first Certified Digitally Well University in 2023," said Amy Blankson, CEO of the Digital Wellness Institute. "Their dedication to creating an inclusive digital environment that supports the flourishing of their community – led by Virginia Tech’s digital well-being champion Laurie Fritsch – is exemplary, and we hope to see more universities follow their lead."
“Our devices are not going away,” said Fritsch. “We all need to figure out strategies that help us maximize the good aspects and minimize the negatives, so that we can live joyful lives beyond our screens.”
For more information about the Digital Wellness Institute, read the announcement, and to join the live webinar hosted on Digital Wellness Day, May 5, go here. To learn more about the JOMO(campus) program, visit jomocampus.com.