The Thrive Guide aims to help students stay healthy during challenging times.

Final exam week can be a stressful time for many students, and with added challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s never been more important to help students succeed. While the University of Vermont provides a number of resources to support student health and wellbeing, a group of students have spent the semester developing and curating practical tips for coping with disconnection and stress: the UVM Thrive Guide.

The project began nearly two years ago as the cornerstone of a social media marketing course in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, CDAE 112: Social Media Theory 2 Practice. The guide provides evidence-based advice in the form of blog posts, podcasts and social media designed to help first-year students navigate stressors of transitioning to college and during finals week. It has taken on a new significance since the outbreak of covid-19, which has left students and individuals everywhere seeking new ways to connect.

“We want to help students progressively work on their health, especially in times of stress,” said Cian Duffy, a public communication senior and teaching assistant for the course. “We want them to feel like it’s doable and show them little things they can add to their schedule that can help them.”

For Students, By Students

“We’re just like you, college students trying to figure out what life is like in this new normal during quarantine and this time of social distancing,” explained sophomore public communication major Adrian Pastor on the Thrive Guide podcast.

The UVM Center for Health and Wellbeing, the university’s central hub for supporting student health and wellbeing, has continued to provide services and virtual programs since the transition to remote learning. The Thrive Guide aims to be a supplemental resource with content created by students for students, based on their personal experiences.

In addition to fostering peer-to-peer support, the Thrive Guide teaches students in the course, many of whom aspire to careers in public communication, how to run an effective social marketing campaign. Within the classroom environment, the students operate as a media publishing group, learning how to work in teams on a real-world project. Lecturer Matt Dugan says that by teaching students how to “sell happiness”, they can use the same techniques to sell almost anything.

“Social marketing is the concept of selling something that’s pro-social, pro-environmental or pro-health. We’re not just running a social media thing, but teaching students how to operate in the real world,” explained Dugan. At the same time, he emphasized the importance of evidence-based communications. “If you truly want to create behavior change, you need to use the science of persuasion.”

Meaningful Experience

Before creating their campaign strategy and content, students spend the first portion of the semester reading journalist Johann Hari’s best-selling book, “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions,” in which he suggests the causes of depression are often rooted in disconnections with oneself, with other and with nature.

Using lessons from the book, combined with supplemental research of their own, the students spend the rest of the semester designing a social marketing campaign with evidence-based content to help students destress and reconnect. The class is broken into writing, podcast, website, graphics and project management teams, which collaborate to produce multimedia content for the Thrive Guide website, podcast and social media.

This semester, the students quickly adapted to the coronavirus outbreak focusing on topics like, “Exercising During Quarantine,” “Ways to Reconnect with Nature,” and “Staying Sane During a Pandemic.”

“We learned that not everything always goes to plan,” said public communication senior Julia Ciotti, who took the class last spring and returned this year as a teaching assistant. “Even as things are different from last year, it’s been rewarding to move our vision forward and set this up as something that can continue for years.”

As Ciotti, along with several of her peers, head into the job market after graduation, the Thrive Guide provides a tangible portfolio piece and experience they can draw upon in conversations with future employers.

“I’m really grateful that I’m leaving this class with a lot of learning, because it is so real-world based,” said senior psychology major Kate McAllister. “It’s enabled me to take all of these cool things I’ve learned in textbooks and in class and actually apply them. I’m walking away with something very real-world and very valuable."