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2017 DOCC Conference

Student Mental Health Advocate Awards

(L-R) Awardee Nate Sawyer of Emory University, Stephanie Salazar, Manager, Outreach and Education, U-M Depression Center, and awardee Forrest Cao, University of Michigan.

To recognize outstanding student leadership in the area of campus mental health, the University of Michigan initiated the Student Mental Health Advocate Award in 2007. The undergraduate and graduate students who have been nominated from across the country have all made a significant impact in their campus communities by raising awareness of mental health issues, advocating for mental health services on campus, and helping to reduce the stigma of depressive illnesses.

2017 Award Winners

Forrest Cao

Junior, University of Michigan
Major: Business administration and economics

Forrest Cao is an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at UM’s Ross School of Business and a BA in Economics. Along with co-founder Hammad Khan,Forrest created a new student organization, Mind Matters, at the Ross School of Business last year to address mental health concerns, increase wellbeing among his classmates, and decrease the stigma of seeking help. Ross students regularly compete against their classmates for top grades, internships, and full-time employment offers, creating a competitive culture. Therefore, it can be a stressful environment in which to learn and thrive. Forrest and Mind Matters have sought to normalize the stresses of the BBA program, raise awareness of common concerns and challenges, and foster positive psychology and resilience within the Ross community. This message is all the more meaningful as a student-led initiative. It is helpful to hear these messages from staff and faculty, but it seems to resonate more strongly when students hear this from their peers. Forrest has frequently partnered with the embedded CAPS therapist and collaborated with other student groups and Central Student Government to further this goal. Despite being busy full-time students, Forrest and Mind Matters members have planned study breaks during mid-terms and finals, including meditation, free morning yoga events and “Puppies on the Patio.”

When talking to Forrest, it does not take long to get a sense of his sincerity, positive energy, and commitment to improving mental health at Ross. He is not looking to pad his resume; it is quite apparent that this is meaningful work about which he cares a great deal. His genuineness and warmth are impressive. When staffing informational tables together, colleagues notice that many classmates come over to say hi to him. His leadership has been essential to Mind Matters’ growth and success at Ross.

Nominated by: Julie Kaplan, LMSW, CAPS Embedded Therapist at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business; Stephanie Pawlik, MSE, Identity and Diversity in Organizations Program Coordinator, Office of Undergraduate Programs, Stephen M. Ross School of Business


Nate Sawyer

Senior, Emory University
Major: Interdisciplinary Studies of Science and Society

Nate is the embodiment of Toni Morrison’s challenge: “Make a difference about something other than yourselves.” His work on Emory’s campus to bring student mental health issues to the fore goes beyond advocacy into the realm of transformational. That Nate does this while struggling with his own mental health and with absolutely no expectation of reward restores one’s faith in humanity.

Like many universities, Emory has a difficult time fully addressing the mental health challenges our students face. With deep energy and conviction, Nate brings together the constituents of the university concerned with student mental health—Campus and Residence Life, faculty, students, counseling services, and others—in diverse forums to discuss and begin building solutions. Nate works from the place that mental health is everyone’s responsibility, and thus, everyone needs to be involved—a collaborative campus ecosystem approach. He has done this with a rare kind of compassion, focus, and creative energy. Nate meets with key players—from students to Vice Presidents—and has become an important resource for many students, as a friend and informal counselor. He has organized a student group, Dark Arts, which uses art as a way to express difficult feelings and experiences. The organization acts as a catalyst and bridge among groups and hosts events like TED talks and strategy sessions. Just the other night, Nate and Dark Arts invited faculty, administrators, staff, and students to a dinner on mental health. Nate laid out the basic challenges then opened the floor for students to share their experiences in mental health at Emory. After numerous testimonials, Nate led a discussion on next steps to improve the situation and announced the “Dear Emory” project, featuring photographs of students holding chalkboards with notes describing their experiences. Through his work, Nate Sawyer is making complicated, deep change at Emory.

Nominated by: Arri Eisen, PhD, Professor of Pedagogy, Biology, Institute for the Liberal Arts, Center for Ethics; Maggie Mang, Student, Emory University Class of 2017