Creating a connected community

CATEGORIES: In the News, News, Students
Five students pose with their award plaque.
Greenlee students took the top spot in a national competition by creating a connected community. Photo credit: Erin Wilgenbusch, Iowa State University

Seventeen students in the public relations campaigns class set out to create a connected community among their peers at Iowa State University. The initiative, called MIND SPACE, was part of a campaign competition the students participated in for their PR 424 class project. Ultimately, the students achieved their goal, and won the national competition.

In August, Teaching Professor Erin Wilgenbusch introduced students to the Invent2Prevent competition sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and hosted by EdVenture Partners.

MIND SPACE focused on creating a connected community by destigmatizing mental health-seeking behaviors. The students’ primary research concluded that many students were aware of the need to take care of their own and their peers’ mental health needs, but often lacked the resources and privacy to do so.

With this understanding of the situation and the audience, the students deployed the following tactics:

  • a website with mental health resources and practical tips for destigmatizing mental health-seeking behaviors,
  • an anonymous online pledge committing to creating a connected community and supporting themselves and others in their quest for positive mental health,
  • providing a room in Hamilton Hall where students can take some time to refresh and refocus or access mental health resources (like telehealth appointments) in privacy,
  • events, like painting kindness rocks, that brought the community together to socialize and focus on something that will spread kindness throughout the community.

“I like this case study competition because it requires students to launch a campaign and measure the results. Many other competitions are just about creating a plan, but don’t include the execution of the plan and evaluating whether it achieved their goals,” Wilgenbusch said.

Large group of students pose on stage holding their plaques.
Students competed in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Erin Wilgenbusch, Iowa State University

“The freedom that I2P gave us allowed us to make a true impact toward prevention and making real progress for mental health accountability,” said Kathleen Hepworth, junior in public relations at Iowa State University. “I’m grateful for their support all semester, and their feedback and guidance was crucial to our project success.”

Invent2Prevent is a competition in which teams from both high schools and colleges develop initiatives aimed at preventing targeted violence and terrorism by applying a public health model that identifies risk factors and activates protective factors. Students are given access to a great number of resources including interviews with national experts in the field, reports from high level government and NGO sources, and funding to launch their initiative.

After placing in the top three nationally in the first round of judging, five of the MIND SPACE students went to Washington, D.C., where they presented their work to a panel of prevention experts from the Department of Homeland Security. The students finished first overall in the competition and earned a $10,000 grant to continue the program.