Early Alert comes to UBC

Earlier support to get students back on track

Less than two months after the start of school, a first-year student – far away from home and the support system he grew up with– stops attending class. He spends all day in a dorm room. He stops handing in assignments too. A month goes by. When a staff member goes and knocks on the student’s dorm room door, he finally gets the help he needs to bounce back.

But such a scenario is less than ideal, say UBC health professionals. Too much time has gone by. The student has lost his semester and his initial university experience will never be the same.

“We know that student wellbeing is strongly tied to student success,” says Cheryl Washburn, the director of Counselling Services and project lead for implementing Early Alert.

“The earlier we can connect students to resources, the easier it is for students to get back on track and the more likely it is that they will succeed. We really want students to succeed and have a good experience at UBC.”

Student mental health is fundamental to learning and UBC has made it a goal to create a campus community that promotes wellbeing. To help achieve this goal, UBC has launched a new program called Early Alert, which will provide better support for students through early identification of issues, appropriate referral, and timely intervention.

Using the new program, professors and staff members identify troubling changes in a student’s habits. Trained advisors review the confidential information and if it looks as though a student might need assistance, an advisor will get in touch with him or her to discuss the concerns.

“Often times, students have a hard time reaching out for help and they don’t always know what resources are available to them or they don’t have a plan to resolve their issues,” says UBC graduate student Victor Tang, an administrator with Kaleidoscope, UBC’s student-run mental health support group. “The Early Alert system meets students halfway by extending a helping hand to them when they may be apprehensive about reaching out themselves.”

“Early Alert is a cultural shift for UBC students, staff and faculty,” says Janet Teasdale, senior director of Student Development and Services, “a shift toward reaching out and caring for a student’s wellbeing at the earliest point.”

With more than 45,000 students on campus, UBC is a large community. It can be difficult to know if issues like decreased attendance, a few bad marks or a change in mood is a temporary behaviour or a sign of a broader academic, financial or mental health problem.

“Too often faculty and staff see a concern and are not sure how to best support students,” says Teasdale. “The Early Alert approach offers a more coordinated response by providing a care plan and point of connection for each concern.”

“Based on my experience working with students for many years, I believe that the Early Alert system is a big step forward,” says Andre Ivanov, head and professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Such a system is needed and timely for our community and will undoubtedly be of great help to faculty and staff in supporting the wellbeing of students.”

Early Alert is part of a broader initiative to enhance student experience and wellbeing by improving how the university supports students across a range of services. This could mean helping students prevent problems from occurring, or offering timely and coordinated services to prevent problems from becoming overwhelming.

A number of other universities use programs similar to Early Alert and Washburn says that these universities have experienced increased capacity to support student success.

“We know our students care deeply about each other and this community. Likewise the university cares deeply about the student body,” says Teasdale. “This program is about connecting our intentions with a system to ensure individual students benefit from the resources to support academic success.”

For more information, visit: http://blog.students.ubc.ca/earlyalert/

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