Provost’s Challenge Kicks Off With Focus on Health and Well-being

A group of East Carolina University students will spend the semester exploring ways to improve student health and wellness as part of the second Provost’s Challenge.

More than 80 entrepreneurial and honors students will take part in this year’s challenge aimed at improving the college experience for Pirates of all backgrounds.

Implemented for the first time in 2018, the Provost’s Challenge blends several characteristics that define what being a Pirate is all about, including student success, public service and regional transformation. The challenge brings together several ECU resources – including its students, entrepreneurial faculty and staff, and senior leadership ­– to think of new ideas and processes that drive job creation, health innovation and educational improvements in the region and beyond.

This year’s challenge addresses student health and wellness needs on campus that pose major challenges to academic success, community service and socialization. A few of these identified barriers include a lack of mental health services, financial instability, navigation of college as a first-generation college student, substance abuse and inadequate access to medical care, among others.

Vice chancellor for student affairs Dr. Virginia Hardy speaks to students about the Provost's Challenge.

Dr. Virginia Hardy, ECU vice chancellor for student affairs, shares her experiences working with students who have faced common health and well-being challenges including financial instability, mental health conditions and substance abuse.

Associate Dean for Students Lauren Thorn said that student wellness is by no means a new topic, but universities are seeing an opportunity to address their students’ overall health and well-being in coordinated ways.

“By focusing on the whole – the whole person, the whole educational experience, the whole institution, the whole community ­– well-being becomes a multifaceted goal and a shared responsibility for the entire campus,” Thorn said. “This is your call to action; (your call) to help your peers and your community flourish and thrive.”

As part of the challenge, students will form teams and develop novel ideas that tackle one or more of these issues. Students will conduct interviews to test their ideas and products before presenting their solutions to university leadership.

Last year’s Provost’s Challenge focused on increasing student enrollment. The winning team developed an income-sharing system that supports students nearing degree completion, lifting part of their financial burden toward graduation. The team has continued to work with ECU’s academic affairs leadership to put their idea into action, which could launch in the fall.

“I’m interested in this topic and am excited about it,” junior psychology major DeMaris Banister said. “One of the things I enjoy most about ECU is that they take their students seriously. I appreciate that they’re thinking about our health and it’s awesome they give students the opportunity to work with campus leadership and decision-makers.”

Interim Provost Grant Hayes said that by focusing on overall health and well-being, students will be able to better serve the ECU community.

“Our students’ well-being is a priority for all of us to tackle,” Hayes said. “This challenge keeps in mind three things: We must have empathy for other people and our community; we must listen and reflect; and we must develop connections that extend beyond our campus and impact eastern North Carolina communities.”

Challenge participants will present their final projects on April 3 at ECU’s annual Research and Creative Achievement Week.