New Meditation/Prayer Spaces Coming to Burton and Twinsburg Academic Center

ODHE Grants Awarded to Supplement Mental Health Initiatives

Student success is at the heart of a new mental health initiative launched by Kent State University at Geauga. Both the Burton location and Twinsburg Academic Center (TAC) have received grant funding through the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) to supplement existing mental health support services that encourage prayer and meditation.

“We are excited that these grant opportunities will help augment existing mental health initiatives for our students,” says Dr. Angela Spalsbury, Dean and Chief Administrative Officer at Kent State Geauga. “Our dedicated team will ensure that students are aware of these resources to ensure ample utilization and engagement.”

This is part of a university-wide effort by the Kent State Campus Mental Health Coalition (comprised of clinicians from all eight campus locations) to enhance or create a meditation/prayer space on each campus. This effort promotes students' well-being, enabling them to be successful, both personally and academically.

“As Kent State Geauga and the Twinsburg Academic Center did not previously have these types of spaces in either location, the funds will be used to create them,” explains Valerie Rutherford, MSW, LISW-S, Counseling Specialist at the Burton and TAC locations. And since TAC does not have the physical capacity to create a brick-and-mortar room, students will be provided access to Virtual Reality prayer rooms and meditation spaces.

Explaining the nexus between academic success and spiritual well-being, Rutherford says, “Engaging in prayer or meditation can reduce anxiety, stress, and feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of calm and mental clarity. Regular practice can also improve focus, concentration, and overall emotional resilience, which are essential for academic success.”

Susan Mark-Sracic, MEd, LPCC, LSW, Counseling and Learning Specialist at Kent State University Geauga at TAC, says that college students are baseline overwhelmed and stressed by negativity in our news and culture. This is intensified as they try to balance academics, work, and relationships.

According to a 2022 report by the American Psychological Association, 46% of adults aged 18 to 35 reported feeling so stressed most days that they couldn't function properly.

Mark-Sracic says, “We believe that it is important for students to understand that their well-being comprises eight dimensions: emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, relational, and occupational. Strengthening ourselves in any of these dimensions can enhance our mindset and help us respond better to stress.”

Spiritual beliefs and practices represent a vital aspect of overall well-being and can significantly impact perceptions of ourselves and others. By nurturing a positive outlook, we can treat others and ourselves with compassion and empathy, leading to stronger relationships, greater resilience, and higher academic persistence, even in the face of challenges, Mark-Sracic adds.

The Geauga campus in Burton has been awarded $1,500 to repurpose an office in Student Services as a quiet prayer and meditation area. Scheduled to be complete and available for use in the coming months, this area will include a zero-gravity massage chair, an aroma therapy oil diffuser, a waterfall meditation fountain, relaxing artwork, meditation floor pillows, and a digital tablet to support the use of meditation and prayer apps.

“Implementing a quiet prayer and meditation area on our campus can significantly enhance student mental health and well-being, thereby contributing to student success,” Rutherford says.

“This dedicated space will offer students a sanctuary to pause, reflect, and recharge amidst the often hectic and stressful academic environment.”

In a unique approach due to limited space, TAC will supply a spiritual oasis for students via technology. TAC’s $3,400 mental health grant will be used to create a meditation and prayer nook for its students, faculty, and staff. The nook, enclosed by privacy screens, will provide a space to use Virtual Reality to promote mindfulness and wellness through guided meditation and prayer apps.

“In this grant, our focus was on creating a meditation/prayer space that emphasizes spiritual and emotional components,” Mark-Sracic says.

“Spirituality embodies beliefs and practices that give meaning and purpose to life, fostering connection. It sustains people in times of crisis or discontent. Meditation and prayer are both practices that promote self-reflection and guide thought to calm and focus us on awareness of the present and acceptance of what we can and cannot control.”

The meditation/prayer nook will be designed with comfort in mind, featuring plush seating, soft floor mats, and prayer mats for anyone to use. By spring semester 2024, students will have access to Meta Quest 3 VR Headsets to meditate and pray.

Mark-Sracic adds, “The immersive experience will help users center their minds and relax their bodies. Virtual reality applications, such as Tripp, Prayroom, and Soulspace will provide picturesque settings, historic locations for prayer, and guided meditations or prayers to help users learn or enhance their practice. The devices can be used individually or as a shared experience.”

While the intersection of spirituality and technology may be novel for many, Mark-Sracic explains that TAC’s incorporation of Virtual Reality technology into the meditation and prayer nook is based on research that shows its positive impact on physical, emotional, and social well-being.

“A systematic review evaluated over 2,500 articles on the use of VR for training in mindfulness and meditation practices. They concluded that VR is an effective and innovative way to acclimate people to mindfulness and meditation practices. Additionally, some research has shown that the use of virtual reality devices in conjunction with counseling can improve psychological well-being outcomes.”

By providing peaceful retreats for stressed students, Kent State Geauga demonstrates its commitment to fostering a positive campus culture that supports each student’s holistic development and helps them thrive, both academically and personally. This holistic approach to wellness encourages body, mind, and soul to achieve balance in a chaotic world and within the academic setting.

POSTED: Tuesday, April 9, 2024 02:50 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2024 02:52 PM
Estelle R. Brown