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Carolina Collaborative for Resilience offers student coaching program

Jessica Lambert Ward, Director of Carolina Collaborative for Resilience, poses with UNC student Isabella Chow Kai. The Carolina Collaborative for Resilience provides supportive mentorship to students.

A double alumna of the University, Jessica Lambert Ward has considered UNC her home for more than 20 years.

Ward received both her undergraduate and master's degrees at UNC. Now, she serves as the director of the Carolina Collaborative for Resilience, working to create a more supportive environment for undergraduate and graduate students.

“I am really here to do the work," Lambert Ward said. "To build the trust of the UNC community, and the students, and create a kind of environment where everyone feels seen, heard, and understood, and supported.”

The CCR, which launched its pilot plan last year, connects students with Resilience Coaches, who can serve as a "bridge" between students to help them access other support on campus, according to the program's website. The coaches are trained to help students experiencing identity-based issues.

The idea for the CCR came about in summer 2020, Ward said, and it was developed in consultation with students, faculty, staff, alumni and the program's advisory board.

On March 3, UNC announced the official launch of the CCR.

“We’ve really tried to tap into the experiences of all of these diverse stakeholders but also relying on multidisciplinary scholarships and best practices to design out the work,” Lambert Ward said. “And then now, it's just officially moving from the design phase into implementation."

The CCR is housed in the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion and runs in partnership with the office, as well as the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the College of Arts & Sciences.

The University's announcement said the CCR would provide "caring and compassionate support" for students. Its Resilience Coaches are faculty and staff who are trained to help students cope with race, identity and belonging-related challenges.

"Research shows that the cumulative and compounded impact of racial and identity-based trauma directly impacts the health and wellbeing of our community," the announcement said. "As the nation’s first public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a unique opportunity to provide a space for coping, healing and resilience-focused on racial and identity-based trauma."

Having CCR as an internal University program allows it to be as collaborative as possible, Lambert Ward said. She added that her nearly 15 years of social work experience with students played a role in the program's design.

Lambert Ward said the CCR strives to create an environment where everyone feels seen, heard and supported.

“When you consider the work at the intersections of identity, race, and belonging and mental health, we really understand how difficult it may be for some students to share their stories and ask for help," she said. "And with that comes with a lot of responsibility."

Resilience Coaches, who serve one-year terms, go through about 15 hours of training over six weeks to prepare them for student interactions, according to Lambert Ward. She said the program model is designed to provide training to 20 faculty and staff each academic year.

After the one-year appointment, faculty and staff can continue to use the skills they earned in their primary work roles, she said.

This academic year, Sarah Stanfield, a counselor and coordinator for Academic Interventions at UNC, is one of the Resilience Coaches.

She said that her full-time role and her work at CCR go hand-in-hand. Being a Resilience Coach, Stanfield said, allows her to support students from various backgrounds that have intersecting identities.

She sees being a coach as a bridge to listen to students and potentially help connect them to colleagues in different units across campus based on their needs.

“There is a space for you and your uniqueness here, and we are happy to cultivate that further,” Stanfield said.

As the CCR approaches the halfway point of its four-year pilot program, it will use data from initial student-coach interactions to inform recruitment for the next cohort of coaches this spring, Lambert Ward said.

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