How to meet mental health needs for students hesitant about seeking therapy? Give them access to a calming self-care resource room.

That's the idea behind Cook Counseling Center's Serenity Space, opening this fall. The space will enhance the center's newly opened offices on Gilbert Street

The new office is designed to be a holistic center for students where they can receive individual therapy sessions, group sessions, and access spaces for meditation, prayer, creative expression, as well as the Serenity Space.

Ellie Sturgis, director of the center, said giving students a freely accessible space for self-care will create a welcoming environment at the new center and normalize proactive mental health care.

Serenity Space, said Sturgis, "will provide a quiet place to regulate an overactive nervous system. We'll have activities for centering, biofeedback tools, and relaxation activities like yoga.”

A noble intention

Sturgis conceived of the space when she was approached by a donor who wanted to memorialize a student while providing mental health resources for other students. The room will post a plaque in honor of the unnamed student, per the donor's wishes.

The initial idea was to create a room where students can transition out of counseling sessions, a place  to pause before going back to the rapid pace of the outside world. It was further developed into a relaxation area and resource room for any student to access, regardless if they are attending a therapy session.

The Serenity Space is designed to have yoga supplies for personal use, relaxation chairs, and biofeedback equipment to regulate breathing and heart rate. A water wall will create a peaceful environment, bringing the calming element of flowing water to the indoors to reduce anxiety.

With additional funding, students will also be able to access subscriptions to mental health apps such as Calm and Headspace for free, so that they can continue to be supported beyond the center. Through May, Hokie Nation can support the crowdfunding campaign to help bring the additional equipment and tools needed to enhance the Serenity Space.

A new era for Cook Counseling Center

Ellie Sturgis (at right, with Chris Wise) will retire from Cook Counseling Center on July 31 after a 25-year career improving mental health efforts at Virginia Tech.
Ellie Sturgis (at right, with Chris Wise) will retire from Cook Counseling Center on July 31 after a 25-year career of continually improving mental health services and access at Virginia Tech. Photo by Trent Lyles for Virginia Tech.

Chris Wise, assistant vice president for health and wellness, said Sturgis "has been instrumental in helping Virginia Tech advance many mental health priorities. The welcoming environment of the new Cook Counseling Center is a testament to her dedication to Virginia Tech students and her love of this place."

Sturgis will retire from Cook Counseling Center on July 31 after a 25-year career.

"I'm proud of the work we've done in developing a center that meets the current needs of students,” said Sturgis. “We have to continue to understand the various needs of our diverse student population and evolve our services to meet them."

After retiring from the center, Sturgis will continue to work closely with Wise on special projects related to mental health and well-being. 

Leading the way in student mental health

Virginia Tech takes an innovative, proactive approach to student mental health and well-being. The new Cook Counseling Center will continue that priority.

"The achievements of Chris Wise, Ellie Sturgis and the team of Cook Counseling Center are truly remarkable,” said Frances Keene, vice president for student affairs. “Through continually responding to the needs of our ever-changing student population in innovative ways, they've ensured that Virginia Tech provides excellent resources to students who find themselves struggling. The better we can respond, the more we as a community can thrive together."

Virginia Tech has been recognized as a leader in student counseling. It boasts one of the lowest student-to-counselor ratios, following the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association. The new Cook Counseling Center will bring the majority of mental health providers on staff into a central location, with the exception of counselors embedded in residence halls and colleges.

"We want the new Cook Counseling Center to feel welcoming to all students from all backgrounds. Multiple waiting space opportunities, student peer assistant workspaces for targeted outreach work, and the Serenity Space to help students relax are important elements of the new center," Wise said.

“The new center also allows all our mental health providers who are not serving as embedded counselors to be together as a cohesive team. Although the space is important, the people are most important in providing the welcoming atmosphere that we desire."

The Serenity Space welcomes support for its resources and equipment through May 31.

For more campus mental health resources:

– by Christina Caudill

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