When a SMART Laboratory opens its doors later this year on Concordia University Wisconsin's Mequon campus, it will mark the first of its kind at a Wisconsin college or university.

Funded by a $15,000 grant from The Charles E. Kubly Foundation, the Stress Management and Resiliency Training Laboratory will be designed to provide high-quality, stress management services for undergraduate students, says Dean of Students Dr. Steve Gerner, who authored the proposal for the unrestricted grant after two colleagues attended a mental health conference.

The lab will utilize tools including online learning modules and biometric feedback to help students learn about mindfulness, meditation, and breathing techniques to reduce stress, ideally before it escalates to a crisis situation. Students will be able to work one-on-one with trained Concordia staff or take a self-guided approach.

According to a national survey conducted last year by the American College Health Association, almost 30 percent of undergraduate students said they experience overwhelming anxiety.

“Today’s college students are facing more pressure than any other generation,” says Gerner. “Thanks to the support of the Kubly Foundation, Concordia will be able to enhance a vital piece of its mission to prepare students in ‘spirit’ as well as ‘mind’ and ‘body.'”

The Mequon-based Charles E. Kubly Foundation was created in 2003 to honor the memory of its namesake and to raise awareness of depression, the stigma associated with it, and to help people access resources in their communities. Ann Homstad serves as executive director of the foundation.

The Kubly grant also covers the cost of training for several of Concordia’s employees. The training will take place at Ohio State University, which piloted its own SMART Lab in February 2017. Since its opening, the Ohio-based lab has hosted more than 1,100 biofeedback visits.

Gerner and a cross-disciplinary group of seven Concordia employees will participate in the training. The group represents Concordia’s health services, residence life, counseling, student life, health and human performance, pharmacy, and social work departments.

This isn’t the first time Concordia has set the pace in terms of its proactive approach to students’ emotional wellness. In 2015, the university was the first in the state – and potentially the nation – to purchase an LCC K9 Comfort Dog, who logs the equivalent amount of hours as a full-time employee. The comfort dog, Zoey, along with her staff of student handlers, serves as an emotional support to students on campus by regularly visiting popular study spots and other potentially high-stress areas to provide a calming emotional presence and source of reprieve. Zoey also has proven beneficial to some students during private counseling sessions and she serves as an asset in ongoing community outreach efforts, says Dave Enters, director of counseling services.

Concordia was also the first in the state to pilot an animal-assisted therapy program. Last academic year, the university purchased a second LCC K9 Comfort Dog, Sage, who works with students in Concordia’s PT, OT, and speech-language pathology programs who have chosen to add on the elective certificate. The animal-assisted therapy program prepares students to be able to provide physical and emotional wellness services to others through the use of an animal.

Learn more about Concordia’s Counseling Center by clicking here.

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