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Susan Stahley
Susan Stahley

By Abby Weingarten

Susan Stahley arrived on campus in mid-September to serve as the health education coordinator in the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC)—a pivotal role that has since helped hundreds of New College students thrive throughout the pandemic. And Stahley’s work is expanding rapidly, now with national attention and support.

Last week, the American College Health Association (ACHA) honored Stahley with a College Wellbeing Funding Opportunity grant. It will enable Stahley to continue her impactful educational efforts at New College.

“I will be engaging students and the New College community in a ‘Surviving and Thriving Initiative,’” Stahley said, regarding her utilization of the $3,500 ACHA funding. “While the CWC has strived to meet the needs of the impact COVID has had on students’ wellbeing—in response to the shutdowns, restrictions and a decreased sense of community—there has been a marked increase in student reports of academic struggles, depression and anxiety, as well as a decrease in physical/nutritional wellness.”

To improve student success during and after the pandemic, Stahley’s “Surviving and Thriving Initiative” will consist of a series of interactive, informative opportunities. Each piece of the program will examine a dimension of wellness, with a focus on learning tips and techniques for individuals to develop their own personal “wellness toolboxes.”

A planned “Wellness Carnival,” with on/off campus partners, will be the kickoff event, tentatively scheduled for October 1. Following this, there will be weekly “Toolbox” events based on the domains of wellness (physical, financial, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental).

Staff from the CWC, the Fitness Center/Waterfront and Outdoor Recreation, and other campus partners, will craft these weekly sessions with the assistance of New College Student Ambassadors. The students will strengthen their leadership skills as they assist in the development, planning, implementation and the evaluation process.

Stahley’s program is in full alignment with the ACHA’s mission this year, to build “thriving and inclusive communities” during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the organization’s leaders write, “Now, more than ever, it’s our time, our opportunity and our responsibility to ensure we are diligently working together toward this goal.”

Stahley has been working toward the goal of creating inclusive environments throughout her entire professional career. She holds a bachelor of social work degree from the University of Georgia and a master of social work degree from the University of Hawaii. Her love of prevention work began during a graduate school internship with Aloha United Way.

Since then, Stahley has alternated between prevention education jobs: a student assistance counselor at Norview High School in Virginia; an alcohol and drug educator at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; the director of the Office of Alcohol, Drugs and Health Education at George Mason University; and a mental health/substance abuse crisis worker at Tidewater Psychiatric Institute, Kahi Mohala and Mobile CriSys Team North Carolina.

“I am always on the hunt for grants and supplemental funding to further use to enhance the prevention work that I love to do,” Stahley said.

Stahley looks forward to continuing to build up the New College community, as the campus navigates the experience (and aftereffects) of the global pandemic together.

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.