The brick and glass facade of the new Student Wellness Services buildingIn 2017, the University of Guelph Student Wellness Services began working with Overlap to support student engagement aimed at deepening understanding of student mental health on campus. Over the next year and a half, Overlap engaged students to empathize and understand their needs around wellness, and to receive feedback on their existing mental health strategy. Overlap also worked with faculty and staff to facilitate the planning and design of service based on student feedback.

The welcome desk and waiting area of the new Student Wellness Services buildingSimultaneously, the Student Wellness Services building was slated to be renovated and expanded. The vision was to create more integrated services to support student wellness. To help realize this vision, Overlap led service blueprinting with a range of stakeholders to collaboratively map out the ideal delivery of more integrated Student Wellness services.

A set of padded tables arranged in a room, with a fitness facility and an administrative office visible in the background.The new Student Wellness Services building had its grand opening in September 2019. It includes a front desk service and Student Wellness Navigators who support connecting students to the right mental health supports at the right time. It has grown to include over 100 staff, volunteers, and contractors to accommodate approximately 330 students who walk through their doors for support every day. While the new service is in its infancy, it has already led to significant gains for students. 

Below is an excerpt from a chat with Alison Burnett, Director of Student Wellness Services at the University of Guelph who has led the charge on this project since it began.

What does student wellness mean to you?

“We often talk about it in terms of the seven dimensions of wellness. It means taking a holistic lens and taking into account the whole person. We also have to consider the social determinants of health in terms of what impedes students to be well. There has been an evolution of what student wellness means over time and we have definitely broadened our approach.”

What were some of your key learnings as you’ve gone through this process with Overlap?

“It takes time to engage and to yield meaningful results for people. It was reaffirming. We had the time to be thoughtful, engage with all the stakeholders, and share prototypes. This allowed for creativity and thinking outside of the box.”

What was the reaction on campus to the new Student Wellness Services?

“It has been a really positive reaction! It is a lovely, vibrant space where students can come at any time—not only when they are feeling unwell. There are many resources available in the building as well as a few classrooms. People are coming through the building for a variety of reasons, so this helps to address stigma as well.”

What is the most notable change you have seen to the student experiencesince opening the new Student Wellness Services?

A sitting room with red and grey padded couches and windows.

“Our integrated front desk. When students come into the building, they approach one front desk for the majority of services in the building. In the new service delivery model, we have positions called Student Well-Being Navigators who meet with students who present with mental health concerns, do an assessment, and connect and inform them of services that are available. This is also having a positive impact on our ability to manage the demand. An evaluation currently underway is showing very positive results for this approach.”

A staircase along an exterior wall, with floor to ceiling windows looking out on a blue sky.What does the future of Student Wellness Services at the University of Guelph look like?

“We have paved a strong path forward and there still is lots of work to do around visioning and being strategic with our future direction. The health and well-being of students, staff, and faculty is a campus-wide responsibility that we all need to be engaged in. This belief needs to be ingrained in the fabric of the university and is being reinforced with the establishment of the Healthy University Advisory Committee. We will keep the conversations going and make sure that health and well-being are at the forefront of people’s minds. Dialogue around these issues is important.”

Any concluding thoughts?

“We wouldn’t be where we are without the input of the students, the support of the university, and the support of the staff working within the department. All three of these came together in a lovely way to create this community to improve student health. I am extremely grateful to work with such a dedicated group of professionals who are so dedicated to the health and wellbeing of students. It was a real community effort to bring this all together.” 

A hallway separated from a fitness facility by a half-wall.