A well-known advocate and leader for mental wellness at Winona State University (WSU) is leading an initiative statewide that will impact mental health support systems for students in nearly 40 colleges and universities.
A bit more than a month in, she’s already made progress.
WSU Director of Integrated Wellness Kate Noelke was recently named the Chancellor’s Fellow by the Minnesota State System. Until December, Noelke will develop a systemwide vision and foundation to support students’ mental wellness across 37 Minnesota State colleges and universities.
So far since starting, Noelke has spoken to hundreds of leaders, frontline workers, and content experts across the state. She’ currently collaborating with leaders to create two statewide communities – one revolved around mental health and another around cross-functional communities of practice.
“There is so much passion and caring in this system,” Noelke said. “I am excited to be communicating across the macro, meso, and micro structures within our system … in the creation of a needs and capacity assessment and some system-wide communication.”
The idea for what Noelke is doing is simple, although not necessarily easy.
Paul Shepherd, the Minnesota State’s System director for student development and success, explained that first, Noelke will conduct an assessment on mental health needs from a college or university perspective, and then do the same for needs of its local community. Then take note of the resources available within both.
Second, Noelke will gather a group of experts to start building a toolkit of resources systemwide that each college or university can use to build their foundation of support.
Third, she’ll develop a communication plan and template that each campus can adapt. Each template will share resources while using words and phrases that center on social belonging and reduce negative stigmas about mental health.
“Our end hope is that this creates much needed tools and infrastructure for this very important work,” Shepherd said. “We really want to build tools that can advance mental health at every college and university.”
Shepherd said Noelke is the perfect person to do it.
“It’s very clear that she achieved success building coalitions across the WSU campus,” Shepherd said. “We felt like the enthusiasm and knowledge Kate brought were unique to set us up for success in the future.”
During Noelke’s time at WSU she’s been an integral part of getting WSU involved in the JED Campus Program which provides a four-year framework to assess the mental health needs on campus and start a collaborative team to network and organize around it in a way that approached it from more angles than just counseling services.
She’s also established Gatekeeper training and Mental Health First Aid training to WSU, which helped train faculty and staff on how to talk about suicide, how to spot signs and symptoms, as well as how to respond when someone is having a crisis.
Since 2017, Noelke has personally trained more than 1,000 people in just the Mental Health First Aid certification.
“Kate has a tremendous energy and enthusiasm for this work,” Shepherd said.
Noelke said a huge reason for her success is from WSU’s willingness and excitement in giving her the freedom to expand on the definition of director of integrated wellness position.
“WSU created this rad role and then allowed it to flex with the needs of our student population and allowed me to flex with my skillset,” Noelke said. “(The director of integrated wellness) position has taken a really unique perspective on wellbeing and how that connects to student success.”
Once Noelke has finished the fellowship at the end of the year, she’ll step back into her beloved role at WSU.
“I’m really excited to work with Kate,” Shepherd said. “She’s a great fit.”