Get to Know COBE

This fall we are launching COBE: the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Initiative, and I couldn’t be more excited!  This effort has grown out of activities related to Spit for Science, a research project focused on identifying risk and protective factors associated with substance use and emotional health outcomes across the college years (and beyond).  Over the last four years, we have enrolled nearly 10,000 students into the project (and don’t worry, we’ll be back again in the spring for the next wave of data collection).   One of the amazing things that has happened as a result of this university-wide research project, is that it brought the university community together to unite around issues related to behavioral and emotional health.

There are faculty across the university who are doing amazing research related to substance use and mental health outcomes.   We already have 34 faculty from 13 different departments, 26 trainees, and more than 150 undergraduate students representing 15 different majors who have worked with the Spit for Science data – and Spit for Science is just one of MANY projects related to behavioral and emotional health that are on-going at VCU.

There are also amazing faculty and staff in student affairs who are devoted to developing fun programming related to health and wellness at the university (don’t miss Love n Liquor at Welcome Week!) and to delivering services to students who are struggling.  But even beyond that, because health and wellness impact so many aspects of our lives, there are faculty and staff across the university who are working to promote student wellbeing, from the VCU Police, to Greek Life, to Residential Life and Housing.

COBE brings together all of these groups to provide a central (virtual) place for all things related to behavioral and emotional health.  Through the COBE website, and through our social media, we will bring together information about research projects and findings, coursework related to behavioral health and wellness, and events and programs across the university related to behavioral and emotional health.  By partnering with dynamic colleagues in the ALT Lab, the School of the Arts, and the Robertson School of Media & Culture, we aim to stimulate a conversation about health and wellbeing that is engaging and interactive (science should be fun!).  We want everyone to feel ownership over COBE, and to join in and make this campaign great.  Follow us on twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and be part of the movement to make VCU a happy, healthy place to live and work!

On a personal note, the reason I became a university professor is because I love universities (my parents might say I found a way around their “you only get 4 years” adage, but that’s another story…).  I love the atmosphere on an undergraduate campus.  I love the enthusiasm and excitement of thousands of freshman coming to college each year, and thousands more returning to the community they love after a summer away.  I love the sense of camaraderie at a university.  I love the creation and dissemination of knowledge in ways that can make our world a better place.  I love the energy that comes from having a community of brilliant people who are passionate about an incredible diversity of topics, and the innovation that can happen when we all come together in one place.  I love that it takes all of us to make that community, and that by the act of coming together at a place like VCU, we become more than the sum of our parts.  If you are a new student reading this, or a VCU faculty member, or VCU staff – THANK YOU for making VCU the amazing place that it is.  It is my hope that COBE will be a mobilizing force that all of us at VCU can rally around – an effort to make wellbeing a core part of the university experience at VCU.  I look forward to building that with you, and to seeing where it will go!  

“The Blacklist” takes on gene-environment interaction!

I watch very little television, but I will confess that one of my current guilty pleasures is The Blacklist.  Season 2, Episode 4 was all about how the propensity to aggression is based partly on genetic influences and partly on environmental influences.  It is rooted in this 2002 research paper by Caspi and colleagues, that was published in Science.  Check out the episode.  And when you do, think about how much is accurate and how much is science fiction (my take: they actually got a lot right compared to many media portrayals of genetics).  What do you think about the rogue clinical psychologist?  As we better understand gene-enviornment interactions, do you think there will be people who try to use that information for harm rather than for good? How successful do you think they would be?

Think you drink a lot? Find out here…

Fascinating chart illustrating data on alcohol use from a large national study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) – the same government agency that funds Spit for Science and most all of my research.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/25/think-you-drink-a-lot-this-chart-will-tell-you/

These data also raise interesting ethical questions about the alcohol industry and where it makes its profits.  In short, most of its profits come from heavy, likely problematic, drinkers.  You can read more in the Washington Post article.

S4S Students are Amazing!

Hi class – I wanted to let you know that I’ve been reading your blogs, and I am so impressed.  With the articles you are posting, and your thoughtful reflections, I am learning new things from you!  I also love the way that you are seeing connections between the things we are studying in S4S and your other classes.  It’s these interdisciplinary connections that have the potential for new discoveries and new breakthroughs across fields, and each of you is uniquely positioned to make these based on your individual experiences and areas.  Keep up the great work.