KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is putting students in control of their lives and future. A 2019 survey found 60% of young people nationwide feel anxious about the future and yearn for control over their lives. Western is responding with a first-of-its-kind effort for any Michigan public university, launching a new platform to meet students where they are and offer them tools to maximize their college experience. Focused on well-being—emotional and physical, career and academic—YOU at Western gives students the tools they need to craft their own success story.
"It's such a comprehensive approach that really focuses on the holistic student experience," says Dr. Diane Anderson, vice president for student affairs. "We think about college being an opportunity for students to find their purpose. When you find that career, that passion, that discipline that gets you excited, it makes a huge difference in your motivation in terms of how you focus your energy."
The platform allows students to explore their strengths and areas for growth across three domains:
Succeed: Focused on academics and career success
Thrive: Focused on physical and mental health
Matter: Focused on identifying purpose and establishing community and social connections
Students create profiles based on their individual growth priorities which allows the platform to serve up advice, campus and community resources, and training recommendations specific to their needs. A goal tracker also measures success and creates an archive to reference achievement history.
"One of my favorite features of the program is how customizable it is. It does a great job of tailoring a student's needs to set them up for success in college," says first-year arts administration student Topher Verhil. "I got to explore different resources for students on campus as well as tools for how to cope with stress and anxiety. If I was lacking in a specific area, the Reality Checks gave me articles that I could read on how to grow in those areas. It gave me helpful tips to really take charge of my college experience."
With the meaning of "smart" continuing to evolve in this ever-changing world, YOU at Western provides students the opportunity to adapt to challenges, connect with resources and hone skills to prepare them to pursue, thrive and prosper in their everyday living.
"Employers have said for a long time they're interested in students who have soft skills," Anderson says. "Our students graduate with excellent knowledge of the content of their own disciplines, but what employers also want to see is students who have the resiliency, the grit, the emotional stamina to manage the challenges that come to any business and are able to navigate that successfully and not get thwarted from accomplishing their goals."
The comprehensive nature of YOU at Western emphasizes the importance of looking at the college experience as academics and more. In order for students to be successful and have meaningful lives, they need the tools to manage all aspects of their lives.
"In this day and age, where there is so much anxiety and so much stress, to have a tool that is not only focused on career but also on making sure that you leave here whole and you understand how to keep yourself whole as you face life's adversities along the way, I think, is huge," says Anderson, adding that no other institution in Michigan is using the platform.
The holistic approach to well-being is something Brooke Brody, a senior public health student, really appreciates.
"It helps you kind of understand what motivates you and what your drive is, not even just about your career but also what you are going to be fulfilled by. And I think all those things help you make those good decisions, help you figure out what your career path is," she says. "That self-exploration and self-awareness, I think, is something in our culture that we don't do well. We don't really take time to sit with ourselves and understand what we want, because we are really focused on outward validation. I think the program provides that space to really think about your goals and your wants and needs."
A tool for self-reflection and inspiration, YOU at Western grows with students as they encounter new challenges and growth opportunities throughout college. It's also meeting students where they are—on any device at any time of day—offering access to information whenever they need it.
Launching at the beginning of November, students are just beginning to unlock the information and opportunities included in the platform. Brody says she can already see the benefits.
"I think it would help me push through barriers or difficulties. The resources it linked to, like mental health and Counseling Services, those kinds of things aren't always top of mind when you're struggling, and to have them right there as a reminder that they are available to you, I think it's a really kind thing to offer."
Another resource the platform links to is WMU's new WellTrack application, which is aimed at helping students, faculty and staff manage mental health. It allows users to track their mood over time, identify stressors, intentionally schedule self-care activities and learn about strategies to manage feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. Both YOU at Western and WellTrack are also available to faculty and staff.
"This intensified focus on well-being has been in the works for some time, inspired by the campuswide initiative that led to Rethink Smart and the understanding that many college students struggle with anxiety, depression and feelings of disempowerment," Anderson says. "We are committed to putting well-being front and center at Western."
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.