About Campus

Keeping Campus Well

Caregivers from Campus Health and Wellbeing talk about the COVID years, and remind us that joy can be contagious, too.

A brick wall with the sign 'Health Center 27'

By James Ramirez-Crippen and Robyn Kontra Tanner
Photos by Joe Johnston

The Cal Poly community became accustomed to change during the pandemic — but throughout the upheaval, the Campus Health and Wellbeing (CHW) team has been a critical constant. CHW’s network of caregivers ensured Mustangs could count on physical health, mental health and wellbeing resources at the Health Center. Its leaders have also driven campus emergency response plans and informed best practices on everything from masks to ongoing testing programs.

To meet the needs of students learning virtually, many providers started using telehealth services to reach students. The center took on the role of providing COVID-19 testing to students, empowering a team of peer health educators, supporting students in isolation and quarantine, and giving more than 2,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I could not be prouder to lead this team,” said Tina Hadaway-Mellis, assistant vice president for Student Affairs Health and Wellbeing. “Their adaptability, patience and compassion for our students was unwavering.”

By the beginning of fall quarter, Cal Poly was prepared for a safe return to most in-person instruction and activities. However, even as CHW team members continue to offer a healing hand to the campus community, it’s clear the pandemic experience will stay with each of them.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the toll that the response has had on our team and others in healthcare,” Hadaway-Mellis added. “The pandemic has opened the door to new conversations about our own health and wellbeing — how we care for ourselves while caring so deeply for others.”

These are the perspectives of three team members who represent CHW’s counseling, health and wellbeing services.

A black and white headshot of Dr. Ana CabezasAna Cabezas, Psy.D.
Psychologist and Diversity and Multicultural Inclusion Coordinator

What has it been like to care for the Cal Poly community during the pandemic?
This last year and a half has been both challenging and rewarding. Mental health professionals have had to adapt to the many changes brought forth by the pandemics. While the world dealt with feelings of helplessness, unrest, isolation and anxiety, we also shared many of those experiences. Many tools we previously used to cope were no longer available; however, not all changes were bad. Transitioning to providing telehealth services facilitated access to mental health support for students who may have otherwise never sought our services.

For me, it was particularly important to focus on building connections with our underrepresented and underserved students. While the work we do as mental health professionals can be demanding, I find that it also gives me a great sense of purpose. I have had many moments of feeling inspired by the students I meet with and by my colleagues, who have been there with me every step of the way.

What moment sticks with you the most?
The collaboration and support that I experienced with the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in Counseling Services. Our focus has been on connecting with campus partners to support our BIPOC and marginalized students, and critically examining our own knowledge, biases and understanding from a cultural humility perspective. Many students, staff and faculty are experiencing racial battle fatigue, burnout, and physiological and psychological symptoms that are a result of cumulative stress. Having a solid support system is absolutely necessary to cope. For me, this group of colleagues has been essential in keeping me committed and connected to the reasons why I do this work.

What message do you have for the campus community?
Compassion goes a long way, both for others and yourself. It’s easy to be critical and pick things apart, especially when it feels like the world is burning. Have patience with yourself and others as we do our best to navigate the many pandemics we are faced with.

A black and white headshot of Brecken AnchetaBrecken Ancheta
Clinical Laboratory Scientist

What has it been like to care for the Cal Poly community during the pandemic?
Although many aspects of my work at Campus Health and Wellbeing have shifted or changed this past year and a half, my goal when I come to work has remained the same: to help others! The beginning of the pandemic was ripe with fear and apprehension, but we have come so far and have seen how much we can accomplish together. The staff at CHW has adapted countless times — often daily — to serve the Cal Poly community and meet the needs of our students. It has been rewarding to know that my calling as a clinical laboratory scientist has allowed me the opportunity to serve others during such a time.

What moment sticks with you the most?
During the height of our testing program this past year, we ran upwards of 600 COVID tests a day! It was incredible to see [our] team working together, like a well-oiled machine, with each member contributing to the program’s success. It was remarkable to see what we can accomplish as a team, and I have no doubt this will continue as the new academic year approaches.

What message do you have for the campus community?
Hold tight to what brings happiness and meaning to you in this life. As a society, we cannot allow fear to steal our joy. Remain hopeful for the future, despite the circumstances, and encourage others to do the same. Let us spread joy, happiness, and hope — they are contagious too!

A black and white headshot of Kirsten VintherKirsten Vinther
Prevention Specialist and Health Educator

What has it been like to care for the Cal Poly community during the pandemic?
The last year and a half have been difficult across the board. Shifting to virtual services in a student-facing role was exciting and challenging on the best days and discouraging on the worst. Nonetheless, I found that students were engaged and incredibly adaptable. My work retained the connection with students — that is part of why I love it so much. That being said, Zoom fatigue is real.

Ultimately, it has further solidified my love for this work. The pandemic itself really put me (and many others) in a position to reexamine my life and my work. Being able to still do education and prevention and work with students in recovery or seeking recovery through this new lens reminded me that I am here because my work truly aligns with the things that are of value to me.

What moment sticks with you the most?
The attendance at our recovery meetings. I had a great deal of fear about how students would continue to connect and get the support they needed as they navigated sobriety and recovery. Instead, our meetings grew and included our students who had moved home to various states. It really illustrated that the peer support was crucial.

What message do you have for the campus community?
It can be very easy to isolate as we move through uncertainty. When I have felt my best, and when I have seen our students thrive, is when we are making the space to stay connected, reach out for support, and share who we are. While there are many different ways to experience this time, we can all take the time to support each other and connect in new ways.

Are you interested in supporting the work of Campus Health and Wellbeing? Visit Cal Poly’s crowdfunding website.