SRU provides online training simulator to address student mental health


Virtual session

Software provider Kognito offers an online training simulator that features a role-play conversation that Slippery Rock University faculty and staff can access to address students’ mental health needs.

Sept. 30, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Exploring first-time independence, fitting in, choosing a career path and paying for an education. These are just a few of the areas that many college students struggle with year in and year out. They are also some of the reasons why mental health remains a concern for those same college students.

One of the proactive ways to address mental health issues before they become bigger problems is training people who interact with students. Slippery Rock University is now providing an online training simulator to faculty, staff and student peer leaders to help them identify risks that lead to student referrals to campus resources or other positive outcomes.

SRU recently partnered with Kognito, a health simulation company, to offer the campus community online training called "At-Risk for Faculty and Staff," which allows participants to learn and practice techniques for engaging with students on difficult topics related to social and emotional health.

"Rather than just reacting to concerns, this software provides training so that faculty and staff are prepared to provide support and get students to the best place for whatever their needs are," said Karla Fonner, SRU director of student support. "This training will help faculty and staff recognize if something is not OK with a student and how to approach conversations that can lead to what we call 'a warm handoff' to the correct campus resource such as Student Support, the Student Counseling Center or Student Health Services."



SRU faculty and staff were emailed a link to access the training, which takes about 40 minutes to complete and includes three types of simulated conversations. Users can practice these challenging conversations at their own pace through role-play with virtual students, which appear as animated avatars, with users being presented options to steer the discussion. At the conclusion, users take a test to reinforce the recommendations before receiving a training certificate.

"The steps are easy to learn and we call them, 'Listen, Validate and Refer,'" Fonner said. "You're listening to what someone is saying, you're validating that the bad experience has had an impact on them and then you are referring them to the proper University office to get additional support."

One such resource is SRU's Student Counseling Center, which provides brief, confidential counseling aimed at helping students to succeed academically and interpersonally. Ken Messina, associate professor of counseling and development and the SCC director, was part of the committee that recommended online training.

"I did the demo and this is fairly cutting-edge training that will help our faculty and staff to be better equipped to handle difficult conversations they have with students," Messina said. "Most of our faculty and staff are not trained in having these conversations or how to handle a situation when a student is in their office in tears. The Kognito software does a really good job of prepping them for those conversations, helping them feel more secure and, most importantly, leading to the end result, which is getting students the help they need."

In a national study of effectiveness, the Kognito simulation has been shown to increase the number of student referrals to counseling and support services. It is listed in the Suicide Prevention Resource Center's Best Practices Registry and under review for inclusion in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

SRU plans to roll out similar Kognito software designed to train students who are in peer leadership positions, such as executive board members of student organizations and residence hall assistants.

SRU faculty and staff can access the training by using the link and enrollment key provided to them in an email sent Sept. 29.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |