The Wellness Center and the Office of Student Development and Retention have combined to form the Student Wellbeing Office.
According to Associate Dean of Undergraduates Donald Ostdiek, the new center's broader concept is combining individual problem solving with health education. The center will be an evolution of wellness where three new social workers will be working to reach students personally and in small groups, Ostdiek said.
"Really, it's an evolution beyond having separate offices for these things... beyond just offering education," Ostdiek said.
The social workers have a background in mental health, according to Director of Student Development and Retention Kate Noonan.
"They're able to really help students problem solve," Noonan said. "They're going to be very accessible and they will be able to really sit down and talk to students one-on-one and get them connected to resources at Rice and have them learn about ... options at Rice or off campus. Because they have that background and training, I think we're able to do some different kind of work with students one-on-one."
The social workers will have flexibility to go to the residential colleges and graduate housing during the evenings, Ostdiek said.
According to Noonan, the social workers will have a more informal and organic relationship with students by having meals with them. Possible duties include attending college government meetings, working in conjunction with the Rice Health Advisors and holding small group discussions.
Wellness Program Specialist Patrick Lukingbeal said the key messages of the new center are being approachable, accessible and visible.
"I think another big piece of our work that we're [doing] this year is kind of this whole collaboration and engagement piece with students," Lukingbeal said.
Over the last year, Noonan and Retention Counselor Agnes Ho heard input from a Student Association forum and held a discussion with Orientation Week advisers in April.
"I think a lot of this is a natural evolution that comes from a lot of student input and a lot of input from our faculty and staff that we work with regularly as well," Noonan said. "It's been something we've been thinking about for quite a while and we've really been paying particular attention to what students are thinking and how we can help them."
Will Rice College junior Petra Constable said she thinks combining both centers into one office will be a welcomed change.
"Their new approach on educating students on how to deal with things on their own is also a great idea because it will definitely help to prevent more serious wellness issues arising as a result of students not wanting to seek help for fear of embarrassment," Constable said.
In addition to the Student Wellbeing Office, the Rice Counseling Center is another resource on campus for students seeking help for mental health. Dr. Kurt Cousins, a psychiatrist, was hired in July to become the director of the center; however, he is no longer with the university, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.
"We did not have a good fit," Hutchinson said. "We place a high priority on providing care for our students, and we believe this change will provide the best level of service."
Dr. Timothy Baumgartner is currently serving as the director of the counseling center. Hutchinson said the university will carefully consider the best options for the center in hiring a new director. He said Rice will continue with its commitment to providing access to psychiatric services.