Temple's bell tower

University life throws a lot at a student: the pressure of exams, a greater need for time-management skills, learning to live independently for the first time. Stressors like these can make it difficult for students to thrive. The College of Public Health has several new initiatives aimed at providing support to help students deal with issues like these and to keep Temple’s campus—and the surrounding community—healthier.

The college’s newly opened Social Service Annex (SS Annex) was designed as a center where students can simply drop in for informal counseling or advice, a snack or a nap. Students don’t need an appointment, and there’s no paperwork involved.

For students facing food insecurity, the SS Annex has a lounge where they can grab coffee or a muffin at no charge, perhaps while running between a job and a class. In a quiet space called the “Zen Den,” where overhead fluorescent bulbs are turned off in favor of gentle string lighting and an oversized floor lamp with a rice-paper shade, students can decompress, meditate or nap. “You can’t do homework in the Zen Den,” says Valarie Clemmons, SS Annex’s founding director. “And you can’t talk on your cell phone.”

In addition to informal counseling, the SS Annex offers referrals to support programs available both on and off campus when needed. There’s a dedicated space for discussions that students may want to have in private with social work students who are volunteering or interning. Licensed social workers are also available, but students sometimes find it less intimidating to talk with a peer.

“Having peers available to students creates a different energy,” says Oneita DeBrady, a College of Public Health  master of social work student who works in the SS Annex. “It’s not like walking into a clinic, or a community program where there might be a stigma. It’s just coming in to talk to people. Many of us who work there have had similar experiences already, so we’re able to share how we handled our challenges.”

DeBrady has also helped set up focus groups for students covering life-management issues. In advising students who may have issues with housing, food and financial insecurity, she says she has learned that real assistance often requires more than just handing out a list of resources.

“When you connect people with resources, sometimes the resources can fall through,” DeBrady says. “You need to develop a solid action plan with them, so they know exactly what’s next on the list of things to do.”

Philip McCallion, director of the School of Social Work, says that while there are great resources available at Temple University for when people are in crisis, “we wanted to do something preventive, to promote self-care. Dean Siminoff and I both saw challenges mounting for some of our students, and we wanted to help.”

The student body’s response has demonstrated the need for such services: The SS Annex opened its doors in January, and by the end of spring semester, it had connected with approximately 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students.

Tobacco-free Temple

For generations, college students have dealt with peer pressure to smoke—and in fact, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Nowadays, marketers are pushing ads promoting vape products as a safer and better-tasting alternative to college students. Several studies show that e-cigarette use is rising quickly among high school and college students. New and far less studied than regular cigarettes, these products create nicotine dependence and have caused lethal lung illnesses.

In an effort to make Temple’s campus a healthier place for students, faculty, staff and the community, Jennifer Ibrahim, associate dean for academic affairs, secured an American Cancer Society grant to assess tobacco use on campus and research smoke-free programs at other schools. She and Dean Laura A. Siminoff assembled and led a task force of faculty members with expertise in tobacco and smoking cessation and brought in student interns to help with research: they observed smoking on campus, surveyed students and employees, and contacted other schools about their smoke-free programs.

Their task force report found, among other things, that about two-thirds of employees reported being exposed to second-hand smoke on campus, and 87 percent felt it was bad for their health. Student feedback was similar. These findings convinced university leadership to implement a new campus-wide tobacco-free policy, which became effective July 1.

“Our leadership made a commitment to go tobacco-free, not just smoke-free, so that includes vaping,” Ibrahim says. Campus police spotting violations now hand out cards, which explain the policy and list resources available to students who help quitting. “We’re going for compassionate enforcement.”

Kristin Chalupa, who earned her bachelor of science in public health in May and is now pursuing her master of public health at Temple, worked as an intern on the tobacco project and is continuing as a research assistant. She helped conduct the campus tobacco-use research that went into the Task Force Report, watched the policy proposal work its way through university approvals, and then went to work educating the campus about the new rules, via social media and other avenues.

“It definitely has helped me become more confident in my planning and implementation skills,” Chalupa says. “The work to understand the wants and needs of the Temple community—it’s a community-needs assessment. You learn to work with a lot of individuals, and I think that will help me throughout my career.”

Clinical services on-campus and beyond

Every year, CPH nursing students get hands-on experience administering seasonal flu shots. And when the mumps scare hit last spring, these students were able to work in a truly acute situation, helping faculty members and clinicians to deliver hundreds of free MMR vaccines to Temple students, faculty and staff.

Nursing students also pursue clinical work in Temple’s surrounding neighborhoods. As part of the Community Home curriculum, undergraduate nursing students are immersed in a Philadelphia neighborhood health facility or community organization beginning in their sophomore year, in order to experience firsthand what nursing in a community setting is like.

“Community Home is focused on relationship-building, trust and understanding that develops over time and in a real-world setting,” says Marti Kubik, professor of nursing. “Balancing undergraduate clinicals between hospital and community settings helps students recognize the value of both and understand the connection between a hospitalization for poor diabetes management and the lack of affordable, healthy food options in the neighborhood, for instance.

Students who study communication sciences and disorders have the opportunity to work at Temple’s Speech-Language-Hearing Center, which has been a regional resource for decades, providing a vast range of therapy to clients who range from toddlers to the elderly. The center, located in Weiss Hall, buzzes with activity “almost all the time,” serving 70 to 100 people a week, including students as well as people from the local community, says Beth Levine, director of clinical education and clinical services.

Clients include children with language disorders, adults who have suffered strokes and traumatic brain injuries, and individuals with autism. There’s a stuttering clinic and a program where transgender individuals can get help modifying their voices to match their gender identity. This summer, as part of a research study, a summer camp explored therapies for children with apraxia of speech.

It’s a service to the community that also provides invaluable education for students who are learning how to become professionals in the field, preparing them for placements in schools and hospitals. “Without it, they really don’t have the skills to be able to make the most of what’s happening out in the world,” Levine said.

At Temple’s Health Sciences Center, physical therapy students staff the pro bono North Broad Physical Therapy Center. They meet a dire community need. Many patients treated at the North Broad facility may be uninsured or may have insurance but can’t afford their copays, says Mary Sinnott, associate professor and director of pro bono services in the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. All the therapy provided by the center is free.

“Students completely run the clinic. They do the scheduling, daily operations, outcome measures, community outreach,” says Sinnott, “They learn how to run a business. They’re learning how to behave as professionals.”

In this way, the connection between the College of Public Health, the campus community and the local community is symbiotic. The university benefits from an in-house resource to stay as healthy as it can be. And students attain real-world experience putting interventions—many that they design themselves—into practice.

“We’re not just teaching in the classroom. We’re trying to translate it out into the community,” Ibrahim says. “And in doing that, we’re setting the tone for our students to recognize where there is the most need.”