Virtual Avatar Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students with Accessible Peer Support (2019-2020)

This Bass Connections project addressed the gaps in college student mental healthcare by implementing a new technologically supported peer health coaching program, in which students who are trained as coaches will deliver support via text messaging. This project builds off an existing application, Sidekicks™, which helps parents and their child’s treatment team communicate with a child diagnosed with autism. Some features of this app are particularly suitable for college student peer health coaching.

The 2019-2020 project team implemented the peer health coaching curricula as a course within Psychology & Neuroscience. Team members examined the mental health of peer coaches through training and program implementation and assessed the effects on mental health of students who participated in pilot implementation with one dormitory.

Participants completed surveys every four weeks during the fall and spring. Surveys included measures assessing coaches’ perceived stress level, experience of burnout, and sense of meaning and purpose. Due to unforeseen delays in launching the coaching service, this cohort of coaches did not have an opportunity to provide coaching to students during the spring semester. In preparation for the launch of this service, the team put together a resource library for the coaches to use to support students in need.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

Team Outputs

Peer-to-Peer Support for College Students’ Mental Health (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

DukeLine: A Peer to Peer Support Program (poster by Christina Boghosian, Brendan Burg, Kyra Citron, Jalisa Jackson, Brooke Keene, Bruny Kenou, Laura Li, Urmi Pandya, Elizabeth Roy, Ameya Sanyal, Taylor Shabani, Savannah Erwin, David Goldston, Guillermo Sapiro, Timothy Strauman, Sue Wasiolek, Nancy Zucker)


Jalisa Jackson

This Team in the News

Bruny Kenou: Rubenstein Scholar Speaks Honestly About Student Mental Health

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022. See related teams, Peer Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students (2020-2021) and Virtual Avatar Coaches: Improving Mental Health Treatment for College Students with Accessible Peer Support (2018-2019).


Image by DariuszSankowski, CC0 Creative Commons

Image by DariuszSankowski.

Team Leaders

  • Savannah Erwin, Arts and Sciences–Psychology and Neuroscience–Ph.D. Student
  • Guillermo Sapiro, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Nancy Zucker, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Christina Boghosian, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Brendan Burg, Psychology (AB)
  • Kyra Citron, Psychology (AB)
  • Jalisa Jackson, Psychology (AB)
  • Bruny Kenou, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Laura Li, Computer Science (BS)
  • Urmi Pandya, Psychology (BS)
  • Elizabeth Roy, Psychology (BS)
  • Ameya Sanyal, Psychology (AB)
  • Taylor Shabani, Computer Science (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • David Goldston, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Timothy Strauman, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Sue Wasiolek, Student Affairs

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Orange County Rape Crisis Center
  • Project Heal