ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – The Atwood Innovation Plaza at Dixie State University was built with one goal in mind; to help students and community members acquire all the skills needed to become successful entrepreneurs or business leaders.
Opened in November 2019, the impressive converted facility has many resources to help future innovators build their futures, including a manufacturing center, research and development area, and technical support available for start-ups.
It also has a dedicated space for a foundation that has developed a smart approach to helping students across the state adjust to the challenges of entering adulthood and university life.
After all, college can be an extremely stressful time, as Tasha McNamee, who has years of experience in student programs, explains to ABC4.com.
âLife is getting a lot more real,â she says of college years. âThere is less control and the support system changes, students become responsible at a higher level for their education and their life decisions. “
Not only are students making career and education decisions, but they are also faced with the expanded roles of relationships, finances, and other responsibilities, virtually at the same time.
Burnout and poor mental health are often byproducts of the college experience.
Helping students overcome the many challenges that can easily lead to mental health issues was a key goal for the late Plaza namesake Lindsay Atwood, a longtime Utah businessman and college administrator.
According to the story, Atwood was having lunch with the school president, Richard Williams, when Williams’ phone rang. After answering the call, Williams learned that one of the Dixie State students had committed suicide. At this point, Atwood resolved to make improving the mental well-being of students a priority.
Atwood died shortly before the Plaza opened, but his gifts and commitment to Dixie State were honored and recognized in the building’s name. He also left another legacy with donations leading to the Trula Foundation, which launched a creative and effective peer coaching system available statewide called TrulaCampus.
The program, which pairs a more experienced student with a student seeking advice, can be completed by text, phone, or video call and is free with funding from the Utah Higher Education System.
For students like Killian Argentin, who receives and gives coaching on TrulaCampus, the program has been invaluable in helping him, a native of France, to better understand the American college scene at Dixie State.
âIt really helps with self-reflection by just having someone to talk to,â Argentinian explains in perfect English with a slight French accent. “They are basically in a similar situation, like the same age, the same school situation, they are all students who go to university on their own, and you can feel like you can rely on them more than if they were it was your parents or an older person. “
Having someone to talk to who is in comparable condition is what makes the TrulaCampus program so successful, says McNamee, the program director. That, besides keeping it free, are features that make the system preferable to a therapist or counselor who can be considerably older and possibly more painful on a student’s budget.
Yet coaches receive top-notch training from a mentor who earned a master’s degree in health and wellness education, in addition to certification from the National Board for Health Wellness Coaching. The method is best described as coaching by peers with whom one can relate to oneself, who ask open-ended questions that help the âcoacheeâ to better understand the solutions he may already have.
âWe want to try to catch these students in times when they are stressed and increase their resilience through a coaching relationship,â says McNamee. âLet’s work on it, talk about it, work on some goals and build self-confidence. “
While the roots of the program are in southern Utah, the footprint extends across the entire state. Annie Buxton, senior at Utah State University and coach of TrulaCampus, found it gratifying to help her peers solve their problems during a weekly Zoom call.
She says what they talk about can vary from person to person.
âThey just want a safe place to work and receive encouragement,â said the 22-year-old communications major. âThrough our training, we’ve learned to just help them find their own answers. They have their own answers and they are inside of them, sometimes it only takes a second to figure them out.
Currently, TrulaCampus only provides services to 150 students in the state, but thanks to increased funding and pending approval from Utah’s higher education system, McNamee expects that it evolves rapidly.
The hope is that by offering free peer coaching, the stress of college life can be managed and that strength and confidence can be built before it escalates into a problem that seems unmanageable.
“We want to catch a student who is suffering from stress, loneliness or panic attacks, any of those types of emotions before they start to turn into something that could turn into a mental illness for them to. the future, âsays McNamee. “Loneliness, stress, these are normal feelings, but what can we do about them, how can we turn them into resilience.”
TrulaCampus thinks it can start with a bit of technology and a trusted personal connection.