The COVID-19 pandemic was taxing on mental health, with more than 80% of college students reporting increases in anxiety, depression and loneliness, according to a study from BMC Psychology. Boston University’s BUild Lab’s Wellbeing: Reimagined, Renewed, Revitalized Challenge encouraged student innovation focused on improving social, emotional and physical wellbeing.
A collaboration between Innovate@BU, the Wellbeing Project and BU Undergraduate Student Government, this competition awarded $500 grants to 11 student-led projects.
The challenge followed the theme “Wellbeing: Reimagined, Renewed, Revitalized,” which was Innovate@BU’s second annual Community Impact Challenge. The finalists participated in a showcase on Nov. 18.
Innovate@BU’s Program Director of Social Innovation Blake Sims-St. Louis said she designed this program to raise awareness about mental health and social isolation after speaking to students last August.
“My hope is that by helping them make those ideas happen, we are having ripple effects and creating a more inclusive, supportive, connected community on campus,” Sims-St. Louis said.
Along with the seven teams below mentioned, four other teams — deeper, Taboo, TGNC Advocacy Committee and BIPOC Mental Health Collective — who could not be reached by the time of publication also received a $500 grant for their initiatives.
Amor Plantae is an initiative to establish a center that treats mental health patients through plant-based psychedelics, adaptogenic mycelium and non-THC minor cannabinoids. They were selected as the audience favorite, earning an additional $500.
In an interview, co-founder L. George Sulak, an MBA student in the Questrom School of Business, said that he hopes this center increases access to treatment for veterans.
“I want to use these plant-based medicines to provide discounts or free services to veterans,” Sulak said, “because when you look at PTSD, or other problems that almost every single veteran faces, these plant-based medicines are essentially miracle cures.”
Fellow co-founder and MBA candidate Chris Sanchez said that they plan to use their awarded funds to attend conferences, conduct research and begin purchasing non-psychoactive mushrooms.
Professional Clothing Closet
Located in BU’s Center for Career Development, the Professional Clothing Closet aims to give BU students access to free professional clothing for job interviews and internships.
Tima Dasouki, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, launched this initiative after experiencing issues with costs of professional clothing as a first-generation, low-income student.
“The cost of a professional experience can become overwhelming,” Dasouki said. “I started conducting face-to-face interviews with students from all educational and professional backgrounds … and really understood that this is an issue for many other students.”
The clothing will be sourced from clothing and monetary donations from non-profits and the BU community.
Moving with Maya
Mariana Mezzacappa, a freshman in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, founded Moving with Maya, an online website and in-person initiative aimed at promoting physical, mental and nutritional health while making the fitness environment more inclusive for people with disabilities.
Mezzacappa’s personal experiences with hereditary multiple exostosis inspired her to found the initiative in 2017, she said.
“I wanted to help the disabled, help the community that I’m in,” Mezzacappa said. “Throughout the years, I started having a passion towards fitness, but I also found that getting myself into fitness being a disabled individual, it was really hard.”
With the grant, Mezzacappa plans to partner with more gyms, such as BU’s Fitness and Recreation Center, to offer more accessible equipment for the disabled population.
The Healing Creative
The Healing Creative offers free resources to remote student survivors unable to receive care from BU’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center.
Caylin Yorba-Ruiz, a master’s student in the School of Social Work, said that as a survivor, she’s filling a need for out-of-state students who cannot seek care from SARP.
“My goal is to create materials … like coloring sheets and informational videos and things like that that will be housed on SARP’s website,” Yorba-Ruiz said.
Wonderland: A Global Village
Wheelock master’s student Sutikshna Veeravalli and College of Communication master’s student Manasvee Muralikumaar founded Wonderland: A Global Village, which offers students an avenue to apply their multiple intelligences through art-based activities, mindfulness meditations and outdoor exposure while creating a climate of inclusion.
Having worked with students on the autism spectrum and being “differently-abled” herself, Veeravalli said she noticed that “inclusion is something that has to be deliberately done.”
The team will use their grant for further logistical planning of renting spaces and supplies for passive activities.
Grad Students Who Hike
For graduate students who need a break from their rigorous academic life, Grad Students Who Hike offers an escape.
“I realized that a lot of people … just don’t have the resources to do much outside of their schoolwork,” co-founder and School of Public Health master’s student Alaina Tabani said. “I asked people if they would be interested in going for a hike if it was paid for, and a lot of people did show interest.”
With the $500 grant money, the team will take 15 to 30 graduate students in SPH on a hike in Massachusetts in the spring of 2022.
“I want this to be something that people are like ‘Oh my God, it was so nice to get out of BU and just do something that I like, and I feel good and I feel refreshed and I feel recharged and now I can go back to doing my schoolwork,’” Tabani said.
Master’s student in the School of Social Work Lauryn Bryant founded HappyPack to provide remote students with a platform to participate in challenges and learn about wellbeing strategies, bringing them belonging and connection.
“Universities are really struggling to support their students’ mental health,” Bryant said. “I’m really hoping to fill that gap where people can have ongoing access to a mini-support group … all the while, learning about their wellbeing.”