12:37 PM

Ohio State and Apple work to connect students to care

On a January day at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, Ohio State University students, faculty and staff were working to find the golden thread and, in the process, improve the well-being of students.

“The first day of the design lab is when we really talk about the experiences of students, and what the app developers really try to do is formulate a core story called the golden thread,” said Jessica Phillips, associate director of student experience for Digital Flagship. “And so what is this golden thread, this clear story that helps to articulate the experiences of students? From day one, what was represented in that story was a student wanting to help another student.”

Phillips was part of an Ohio State team that spent three days at Apple to jumpstart the creation of an app to support student mental health. Ohio State will develop the app in-house, building on the concepts defined during the sessions in Cupertino.

“I didn’t think so much could be accomplished within a week, but we had stakeholders from across the university at the table,” said Undergraduate Student Government President Shamina Merchant, one of the students who made the trip to California. “We went in with the mindset that we wanted to put the student experience at the forefront of this design process and make it so we were working to address specifically the students’ pain points.”

Merchant and Vice President Shawn Semmler made mental health support a plank in their USG campaign. She said they did their homework before stepping through the doors of the Apple headquarters.

“We put out a survey over the summer seeking feedback on students’ experiences with mental health services at Ohio State,” Merchant said. “And that guided a lot of the conversations in the app meetings because we were better able to speak to them depending on where a student was in his or her journey.”

Merchant approached the meetings not only as a leader in student government, but also as a member of the university’s Suicide and Mental Health Task Force. President Michael V. Drake commissioned the task force last year to examine Ohio State’s suicide prevention efforts and mental health services.

It was so cool to sit down with Apple – to be able to speak directly to them and tell them this is how we feel, this is our experience, and have that heard and then implemented into an app.
Samantha Woodring, co-president of the Buckeye Campaign Against Suicide

One of the recommendations from the task force final report included using apps or other digital resources to connect students to mental health services or support.

“I’d say that being on the task force gave me a really good picture of the landscape from a university and administration perspective -- what are the pain points on the back end to providing students with the ideal experience?” she said. “But it also gave me the ability to have some time to make sure that I fully understood the pain points that students from all different experiences were facing.”

She wasn’t alone as a voice representing students in Cupertino. Samantha Woodring, a third-year English major and co-president of Buckeye Campaign Against Suicide, was part of the trip as well.

“It was amazing. Honestly, it was so cool to sit down with Apple – to be able to speak directly to them and tell them this is how we feel, this is our experience, and have that heard and then implemented into an app,” Woodring said.

“I’m really excited for the app to come out and I’m ready to start beta testing and all that stuff, but it was really good just to be heard,” she said.

Woodring understands the importance of being heard. She’s one of the leaders of RUOK? Day. The annual event helps increase awareness in the community about suicide and the symptoms of suicidal thinking, and offers resources to those who might be at risk of suicide.

Events like RUOK? Day and ideas like a wellness app are part of the overall effort to create what the task force report called a culture of caring at Ohio State. It’s an ongoing process and Phillips said the work on the app will continue with more student engagement.

“One of the next steps for us will certainly be to engage a broader student group around the app idea,” she said. “We will want to vet it with a larger group, including international students, and probably some other students who we know are statistically more likely to be challenged by mental health and wellness issues. So I think we’ll will want to connect with more students, give more students the chance to have a voice and engage students in testing the app as it moves forward.”

Merchant said even the early designs of the app show promise. The central design idea will be to connect students with the resources available through Ohio State and community partners to get them the help they need as efficiently as possible.

“I think students will find that the direction of the app is one that will be easily personalizable, one that makes it easy to connect with their peers, track their personal success and, most importantly, navigate resources that best fit their needs,” she said.

Woodring said she came away inspired by the progress.

“When you combine OSU with Apple, what an amazing combination that is,” she said.

She said the visit to Cupertino speaks to the power of the university’s partnership with Apple through Digital Flagship. The same partnership that delivered technology kits to thousands of students across campus could help them find the link to critical health services.

“What else is more accessible than an app?” Woodring asked. “If you need that information you don’t have to necessarily call someone on the phone and you don’t have to come to one of these events. It’s even more accessible than something like this. I’m constantly amazed when I reflect back on going to California.”