President Peterson addresses action teams

Photo by Michael Schneider

On Dec. 6, Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson released an update on the progress and future of the Institute’s Path Forward initiative after the completion of three action teams’ reports last fall.

The update announced the creation of a five-member Path Forward Advisory Group, composed of staff, faculty and an undergraduate student, that has been tasked with guiding the implementation of the over 180 recommendations made in the reports of the Student Mental Health, Campus Culture and LGBTQIA Community Support action teams. Three of the members served on the initial action teams.

“The team will monitor progress, serve as a liaison with senior leadership, and partner to communicate updates with the campus community,” Peterson wrote.

The fourth action team, the directorate of which involves a focus on Campus Safety, has yet to convene due to the pending investigation of the death of Scout Schultz by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“While some of the Action Teams’ recommendations will require additional planning, coordination, and investment, many can be implemented through immediate changes by our campus community,” Peterson wrote.

Some early actions taken last fall include suspending the 16-visit limit on counseling sessions, planning a Healthy Minds Survey to come in Spring 2018 and modifying the “dean on call” process to be more accessible to students in crisis.

Last November, two couples who are members of the Parents Board joined efforts to endow $2.5 million to create the Brandt-Fritz Dean of Students chair, pending the Board of Regents approval.

An annual income of $100,000 generated by those funds will go to support the chair, which will always be given to the incumbent Dean of Students, who is currently Vice President of Student Life John Stein.

“The Brandt and Fritz families’ gift will enable us to focus on important initiatives related to student mental health and well-being and will benefit both current and future generations of Georgia Tech students,” Stein said late last November.

President Peterson’s December update listed other endowment commitments from multiple sources that will together provide another $2 million to be directly spent on student and mental health initiatives across campus.

While vacancies currently remain in the staff of the Tech Counseling Center, Peterson wrote that the finalists in the search for a permanent Counseling Center will be identified “as early as possible in the spring semester,” and that the hiring for new counselors, psychiatrists and other Counseling Center staff will begin once staffing needs are determined.

Additionally, there will be increased screenings for depression and training for peer interaction and intervention when there is a mental health concern.

Several of the prioritized items aim to support the LGBTQIA community of campus. In the fall, funding was secured for a new full-time coordinator position in the LGBTQIA Resource Center.

Additionally, the Institute plans to review and expand the LGBTQIA Resource Center to ensure that it is up to standard with those of peer institutions, as well as expand the number and availability of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.

Part of the immediate work will be spent on reviewing past surveys and recommendations to determine what other actions can be taken.

For example, the Institute plans to review the recommendations of the 2015 Task Force on the Learning Environment, and determine the action items that remain from its findings.

Based on the Campus Culture action team’s recommendations, the Institute will work to update the GT1000 and GT2000 curricula to focus “holistic development”, and plans to expand the principles of the GT Athletic Association’s Total Person Program to the entire campus. Developed by former Georgia Tech Athletics Director Homer Rice, the Total Person Program stresses a balance between life, academic and athletics for its student-athlete participants and teaches them several personal health and well-being topics.

“Our work is far from done,” Peterson wrote. “We intend to continue discussing and building on the recommendations presented by the Action Teams through the coming spring semester in a variety of ways.”

The Advisory Group members are expected to interact with the Tech community and provide updates to the campus community on the progress of various initiatives.

In addition to its current goals,  “leaders will look for additional opportunities suggested in that work to make Georgia Tech the open, welcoming and inclusive campus we are all committed to,” Peterson said.

Besides Peterson, the implementation committees involved in putting recommendations from the Black Student Experience Task Force (BSETF) and the Gender Equity Initiatives (GEI) both released statements on Dec. 8.

In these quarterly updates, both committees discussed the 11 recommendations provided, and what they are doing to address them. These committees are ahead of the current Path Forward Advisory Group, but represent what is in the future for the group as they forward in implementation.