The College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute – It’s Official!

NPHC Exec with COBE

Members of the National Panhellenic Council meet COBE during a collaborative event.

By COBE Director Dr. Danielle Dick

Last week the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute (COBE) received official approval from the university as the newest research institute at VCU. Institutes and Centers are formed to promote research and educational opportunities that cut across traditional disciplinary structures that exist within universities, for example, by bringing together faculty from different departments or divisions with shared interests and/or to work toward a common goal. The COBE Institute was conceptualized as an innovative way that we at VCU can address the growing rate of substance use and mental health challenges experienced by college students.  COBE brings together individuals from diverse constituencies across the campus around the topic of behavioral and emotional health.  COBE connects:

Researchers.  At VCU we are fortunate to have tremendous faculty expertise related to behavioral and emotional health, with researchers studying topics such as substance use, depression, anxiety, relationships, sleep, fitness, emotions, and much more!  These researchers are found across multiple departments and both campuses.  COBE provides an opportunity for these researchers to come together.  At the COBE website, information about researchers who study behavioral and emotional health is centralized, providing an easy way to learn about the portfolio of on-going research on health and wellness at the university.  COBE also provides opportunities for researchers to interact, such as the monthly COBE brown bag lunch series, in order to stimulate new interdisciplinary research collaborations, projects, and grants.  This will enable VCU to continue to build its international preeminence as a premier research institution with a focus on human health.

Researchers, Practitioners, and Administrators.  At COBE we want to do more than just generate research; we want to ensure that the wealth of knowledge created by researchers at VCU feeds back to benefit our students and our community.  COBE connects researchers with the faculty and staff who are involved in prevention, intervention, and service delivery related to health and wellness at the university.  COBE partners with The Wellness Resource Center to integrate research into the prevention and intervention programming related to substance use and mental health at the university and to disseminate research findings through the Stall Seat Journal.  Further, by partnering with senior leaders at VCU from the Divisions of Student Affairs and Strategic Enrollment Management, we can better evaluate how behavioral and emotional health impacts student success at the university and use this information to guide future programming.

Students.  We want students to play an active role in the conversation about well-being at the university.  COBE has create social media channels (you can follow us at VCU COBE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to start a dialogue on mental health and wellness.  We share information about research results, both from VCU and elsewhere, related to behavioral and emotional health, and we spearhead ways for students to engage in these efforts (Motivational Mondays are coming soon!).  We partner with student groups who have a shared interest in behavioral and mental health, such as Active Minds, and we work with student groups who want to do projects to promote well-being on campus.  At the COBE website, students can also find information about ways to get involved in behavioral health research, and coursework related to health and wellness.

The Community.  One of our goals for COBE is to build collaborations with community partners who are also interested in promoting health and wellness in young people.  We are fortunate to already be working with the JHW Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about substance abuse in young adults and supports young adult recovery.  The organization was founded by John and Roz Watkins in memory of their son John Henry Watkins III who lost his life to addiction while he was a college student.  We are looking forward to building relationships with community members who are also passionate about promoting behavioral and emotional health in young people.


COBE Director Dr. Danielle Dick and Dr. Jessica Salvatore record an episode of the podcast Why Science

By bringing together these diverse constituencies of individuals around the campus, COBE aims to create unique and innovative learning opportunities for our students that promote their health and well-being.  Here are some of the things we have in the works:

The Science of Happiness.  Coming this spring!  COBE faculty are teaming up to create a course that will introduce students to research on the factors that contribute to the continuum of mental health outcomes:  from substance use and emotional health challenges to flourishing and well-being.  Further, students will learn about proven techniques for improving their own health and happiness.  This course will be offered in the Spring of 2016 as a pilot course that can be used toward the required general education elective credits.

THRIVE!   Incoming freshman students for Fall 2016 will be able to apply to live in the new THRIVE residence hall.   COBE is working with Residential Life and Housing to create a program-in-residence that emphasizes well-bing as a core component of the university experience.  Students will have priority registration in the Science of Happiness course, the unique opportunity to engage with COBE researchers,  and exclusive access to regular programming related to health and wellness.

Creative Collaborations.  COBE is taking advantage of the creative scholarship that exists across the university to increase the visibility and accessibility of research findings.  For example, we are partnering with the Department of Communication Arts to engage art students in the presentation of research results in more engaging ways.  We are working with the ALT Lab on the innovative use of digital technologies to present information related to health and wellness.  We are partnering with the Center for Media + Health to design and research social media campaigns to promote wellness outcomes.   Visit our website regularly to see the new things we have coming out!

Monroe Park Campus Faculty Meeting

Dr. Danielle Dick introduces members of the Psychology faculty at VCU to COBE

Ultimately, the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute hopes to stimulate research and discovery related to behavioral and emotional health, to showcase research findings in ways that are accessible and engaging, and to translate this research to inform and improve policy, programming, and practice at the university.  By creating an interdisciplinary “space” for individuals around the campus to come together surrounding issues related to behavioral and emotional health, we hope that we can increase the well-being of our students and the broader university community, and create an environment at VCU where personal growth goes hand in hand with academic discovery.