Our work tracking napping locations on The University of Alabama’s campus  



Creating a Design Thinking course to be implemented within the Honor’s College


Improving upon UA’s Counseling Center marketing strategy 

About the Mental Health Project

Natalie Nickerson

In May 2018, after an extensive scoping process, which included several rounds of research, proposals, and discussions, DFA-Alabama designated the Mental Health project as its next venture. This project provided many different challenges and opportunities than the previous Stemgineers project, the most significant of which being the size of the user group, which included the entire University of Alabama student base. Choosing such a large user group allowed us unlimited access to people for empathizing but also posed the challenge of creating a solution that was innovative enough to be applicable to a widely diverse group.

In the fall of 2018, we began empathizing but immediately stumbled upon a roadblock given the confidential nature of mental health. We spent a large part of our time determining how we could ask our users these important but sensitive questions without putting ourselves or our interviewees in situations that we had not been trained for. Our first major empathizing event was a table we set up in the Ferg with a large sign displaying the message, “How Are You Feeling?”. For a whole day we manned the table and had people anonymously fill out a questionnaire which asked the question, “How are you feeling today, this week, this month, and this year?” Our goal with this question was to separate the idea of a person’s day-to-day emotions and their overall mental health state.

We also created an online survey regarding what the University does well and where they could improve in regards to mental health attitude and support. We ideated and determined a novel method for distributing this survey link while also sharing mental health information. This was our “1 in 5” project and was named after the fact that “one in five American adults experienced a mental health issue” (mentalhealth.gov). We distributed small bags containing five jolly ranchers (one of which was a different color to demonstrate the statistic) and a handout containing a variety of mental health facts in addition to a QR code to the survey. In addition to creating this survey, we pasted inspirational posters around campus depicting various influential people who struggle or have struggled with various mental illnesses, proving that people are more than their struggles.

After examining the information we received from the “How Are You Feeling?” event and the online survey, we decided to reframe our project. We made contact with Charlotte Petonic, the Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Wellness, who coordinates the Brown Bag Lunch events on campus. On February 6, 2019, DFA ran a workshop during a Brown Bag Lunch to help the attendees determine the mental health factors which positively and negatively affect them. We summarized the data of the 30+ attendees to help us better understand which factors make the most difference in most students’ lives. After this continued empathization, we split up into three groups: a Design Your Life class, a group to improve the handouts from the Counseling Center, and a group to deep dive into the rest of the Brown Bag Lunch data. This last group eventually chose to make a “Nap Map” after determining that students need places to sleep on campus in between classes to reduce stress and recharge. 

This Mental Health project taught DFA many valuable lessons about the design process and we look forward to seeing our implementations benefit students all around the University of Alabama campus.