Four-University Study Focuses on Student Well-Being During the Pandemic

The original article written by Matt Shipman from University Communications

An ongoing study led by North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University focuses on assessing the mental, emotional and physical health of undergraduates during the pandemic – in order to determine how universities can better support their students. The study involves students at NC State, North Carolina A&T State University, University of Iowa, and Duke University.

“The pandemic is making us evaluate and reinvent the college experience, at least temporarily,” says Julie Ivy, principal investigator (PI) of the study. “For example, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of social connection. How we can facilitate social connection when every course is online?

“Fundamentally, our goal with this study is to measure student well-being and see how it changes over time,” says Ivy, a professor in NC State’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Fitts Faculty Fellow in Health Systems Engineering. “What are the factors that influence student well-being? Even though this is taking place during a pandemic, we think our findings here can help us change the college experience to improve student well-being and – ultimately – increase the likelihood that they will graduate.”

The collaborative work is being done with support from the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program under grant numbers 2040072 and 2040202. The North Carolina A&T PI is Lauren Davis, who is an NC State alum. Co-PIs on the study include Maria Mayorga and Julie Swann at NC State and Harriet Nembhard at Iowa.

For the study, researchers are surveying undergraduate engineering students during the spring 2021 semester. Study participants include approximately 800 students; 200 students at each of the four participating universities. The NC State team is also collecting some additional information from first-year engineering students.

Participant surveys at the beginning and end of the semester address a wide range of wellness issues, such as depression and satisfaction of basic needs. Study participants are also asked to take weekly surveys that address psychological well-being and stress.

“We are also looking at student data on academic success and progress toward graduation,” Ivy says. “Basically, we’re looking at whether we can identify any risk factors for students dropping out. This is important, because it could help us determine when and how to intervene in order to help students who are at risk.”

The researchers will complete data collection by summer 2021 and hope to have findings by late 2021.