Once a month, the powers-that-be convene to determine the fate of all Weber State University students. Well, they at least discuss the finances, academic changes and policy changes at WSU. These powers-that-be are the Board of Trustees, eight of whom are appointed by the governor, one of whom is the president of the WSU Alumni Association and one of whom is the president of the WSU Student Association.
This month, they met Sept. 13 to hear a presentation by the Dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology, to discuss student mental health, to hear a report on the Weber State University Student Association and to take a few other actions.
Dave Ferro, dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology, discussed the goal of the college in front of the board. Ferro emphasized getting a strategic division plan for the college, a plan to help ensure the college meets its goals and outcomes.
“It started a couple years ago when we went through every department and we did a strategic plan,” Ferro said. “Before that we had done a strategic plan at the college level, and now we need to do a bottom-up, up to the top-down plan that is reflective of that at the college level.”
Ferro stressed that the organization of the college tries to bridge both community and student needs. The college is focused on working closely with the community to match students as either interns or graduates with projects and people, to give students the most experience and value from the job or internship.
As part of focusing on the needs of the students and the community, the college has made changes to the mechanical engineering degree. Hill Air Force Base has been hiring WSU’s mechanical engineering technology students for a long time, but there are two tracks for mechanical engineering students: they can either take the track of a technician or the track for engineering.
To help narrow the focus, there is now a track for Mechanical Engineering and separate track for those who wish to specialize as Mechanical Engineering Technicians for other companies who need graduates with those degrees.
In 2016, the Engineering Initiative Request added a large amount of graduates to these programs, which encouraged the state of Utah to fund another initiative to bring in more graduates. Between all schools, excluding BYU, WSU has made its mark among Utah schools, with large increases in enrollments and graduates throughout degrees in the college.
With the increase in students majoring in these subjects, however, the Board noted that new spaces would need to be built to accomodate them, including a space on the Davis campus and a space that would eventually subsume the Noorda building on the main campus.
The next topic the Board of Trustees discussed was student mental health, unarguably an important facet of college life. The American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, a nationally standardized survey, is done every other year in the spring, to help assess student mental health.
In one section of the assessment, the test gathers data on what symptoms of depression have been experienced by college students in the past 12 months.
42 percent of students at WSU reported that they had “felt so depressed it was difficult to function.” 20 percent were “diagnosed with depression.” 15 percent reported that it had “affected their academic performance.” Two percent reported that they had attempted suicide — nearly 500 students. The majority of the results were equal or higher than the national and state average.
While these statistics may seem startling, Dr. Dianna K. Abel, director of the counseling center and licensed psychologist, stated that depression isn’t actually the biggest issue: it’s anxiety, which students have reported in even larger numbers.
“Just in the last 12 months, 62 percent of our students have said that they have felt overwhelming anxiety,” Abel said. “23 percent say they have been diagnosed, 14 percent say that they have taken a medication and more than a quarter, 26 percent, say that their anxiety has impacted their academic performance.”
Again, on nearly all of these measures, WSU students report much higher percentages than students in other parts of the state and in other parts of the country.
In another section of the ACHA NCHA, it surveys the lifetime of the student, rather than just the past 12 months. 29 percent of students have been diagnosed with depression, 29 percent have seriously considered suicide and 14 percent reported a suicide attempt.
Even though the numbers of students that suffer are high, there are many resources on campus. The counseling center offers individual, couple and family counseling. There are also several group therapies and support groups to help students through hard times. They also offer same-day crisis intervention.
QPR for Suicide Prevention is a nationally standardized program that helps train faculty and staff in what to do when in the company of someone in a suicidal crisis. By taking a public health approach to mental health, the hope is that more students can be reached and helped.
For students, a new class, Psychology 1540, will be starting in the spring. As a half-block class, it will teach students the QPR methods, helping peers in crisis and making effective referrals. The second half of the semester, in a course that is not yet named or numbered, will be for select students who will then be trained to run support groups.
Additionally, the Board of Trustees went over the WSUSA report.
New events with WSUSA have begun, with the newest being “Taters with Slater.” These events, which include french fries, baked potatoes or other types of potatoes at different colleges across campus, will include the opportunity to speak with Jordan Slater, president of WSUSA. The first one is planned for Tracy Hall.
“I just want have the opportunity to meet with students,” Slater said. “I want to figure out what their needs are and what they want to say. I’m looking forward to these events.”
WSUSA is also giving students a chance to learn how to register to vote and helping them engage in their civic duties. The goal is that by having registration forms where students can access them, the student body will have a greater voter turnout.
Finally, the Board reviewed actions taken. Among these actions, Sherri Cox was appointed and confirmed as the Board Secretary. Francis A. Davis was confirmed as the December 2018 commencement speaker.
The Business Committee moved to approve, among other financial requests, the Fiscal Year 2020 Facility Budget, namely the Noorda building budget and the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Requests.
A new academic program was proposed: Computational Statistics and Data Sciences. It was confirmed and will be a new bachelors of the science program starting in the 2019-2020.
Finally, the Dean of the College of Education, Jack Rasmussen, asked for Administrative or Special Leave. He has served as dean for 17 years. With this announcement, WSU can begin to look for a new Dean for the College of Education.