Students with distress have a place for solace

Brianne Fleming, Copy Editor

A semester full of classes, studying and activities can be hectic enough for any student, without the unexpected crisis or tragedy they could face at any given time.

Pitt-Johnstown’s Office of Health and Wellness counselors offer help to any student who is seeking it.

Office Assistant Director Emily Kist said the office staff offers free and confidential counseling for all UPJ students.

“We provide individual, group and crisis-intervention counseling,” Kist said. “And community referrals.”

Kist suggested any student dealing with discomfort, grief or loss should visit the office.

“It is important to have a lot of support when dealing with grief and loss,” she said. “Our mission is to provide services to students in support of their academic goals.”

Kist said the office counselors try to provide services that are able to meet an individual student’s needs, as well as the most up-to-date treatment techniques.

Pitt-Johnstown senior Kevin McDonald was one of the students hit hard emotionally by the loss of Marine and fellow Delta Chi brother Brian Gindlesperger.

“Things that have helped me have just been my friends, family and my brothers,” McDonald said. “Along with some of Brian’s family as well.”

McDonald said although he has dealt with his grief in personal ways, he is thankful the UPJ staff and faculty have been so supportive.

“I think that there are a somewhat good number of resources here on campus to help deal with the loss of a family member or friend,” he said.

In terms of improvement, McDonald said faculty could be more involved in reaching out to the ones who are struggling and offering them the help they may need.

Health and Wellness Office Executive Director Theresa Horner said the department has made many positive changes within the last three years.

“We continually establish new protocols, procedures and interventions as we strive to be responsive to our students’ mental health needs,” Horner said.

Due to these office changes students’ service demands have increased, Horner said.

“Our office staff provides an open and welcoming environment that ensures the delivery of quick, confidential and professional services for assistance,” she said. “It is our pleasure to serve the students of Pitt-Johnstown.”

Student Academic Services Director Paul Douglas Newman said, when any student experiences a type of crisis that will cause them to miss three or more days of class, they should immediately contact his office.

“We send out communication to all of the student’s instructors, asking them to please consider excusing the student from class,” Newman said, “and also to consider giving an appropriate opportunity for makeup work.”

Newman said most professors tend to excuse the student after seeing a note from him because he obtains proof of the tragedy from the student. This proof could be a doctor’s note, obituary or contact with a military officer.

“Our counseling center does excellent work,” he said. “But they can only do that work for you if you come to them.”

If a student goes to Newman’s office with information about a particularly tragic situation, he first submits a care report on the UPJ website, and then offers to take them to the Health and Wellness Office for further assistance.

“We try to meet the students’ needs,” Newman said. “All kinds of things can happen to people.”

Newman said he, like students, knew Gindlesperger well.

“He was a wonderful guy,” he said. “He was like my leader when I needed someone to go to.”

Newman said in terms of campus improvements, there is only one thing they could improve.

“We could do a better job of getting the word out,” Newman said. “And getting students to take advantage of our counseling services.”

Newman said counseling works if the student ultimately wants to take part in it.

“I feel so fortunate to have the people we have in our counseling center,” he said.

Pitt-Johnstown faculty and staff may not be able to stop tragedies and crises from happening, but they can do their best to lend a helping hand to a student in need.