As the director of the Yale Well Initiative and the Good Life Center (GLC), Tracy George is on the front lines with students struggling with emotional health issues.
Located in Silliman College on central campus, the GLC is Yale’s first student wellness center open to all students. George saw the need for a space at Yale where students could concentrate on their emotional wellness and personal happiness as they navigate challenging course loads and a host of other stresses associated with college life and young adulthood.
George, M.P.H. ’15, approached psychology Professor Laurie Santos, teacher of the popular Yale class Psychology and the Good Life, with the idea. It turned out that Santos was thinking of creating something similar.
“Our paths crossed in the most amazing of ways,” said George, a native of Cleveland, Ohio. “We joined forces to make the GLC happen, and it’s been an incredible journey! The student demand within the first year was overwhelming, and demand has only increased the second year. I have found it so rewarding to combine my passions for mindfulness, wellness, supporting students, and creating cozy spaces… all into the manifestation of this center.”
One of the best parts of the job are sessions that she calls “Tea Time with Tracy.” These are individual support sessions where George and a student share a cup of tea and she uses the skills of motivational interviewing and mindful inquiry to help students during their most challenging times. George describes it as a unique, non-clinical offering set in a cozy space that directly addresses student struggles with loneliness, anxiety, self-worth and belonging.
“It’s really taken off, and students have even started to refer their friends to tea time regularly,” she said.
One of the most challenging parts of the job is reaching as many students as George would like to. Created in the fall of 2018, the center has a limited budget, staff and space during its pilot phase. Yet, George is confident it will grow into something even more impactful once funding for the longer term is secured.
George credits the training that she received at the Yale School of Public Health (Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences) for helping discover her passion.
“The program was so flexible, allowing me to spend time working in student wellness on campus and taking multi-disciplinary classes.,” she said. “Through my experience as a graduate student and working as graduate assistant for student wellness, I discovered my love and skill for health education and direct public health work on campus. The mental health crisis facing college and university students around the country is extreme, and no better way to address it than with a macro public health view combined with micro-level skills.”
It was her summer internship in Washington, D.C., at the Center for Science in the Public Interest that reinforced her desire to interact with people directly. On the weekends that summer, she volunteered at an urban farm and community garden called Wangari Gardens.
“Literally getting my hands dirty, connecting with community members, and being in nature felt like home. I conducted interviews with community garden plot holders to learn about their experiences and why they gravitated toward the gardens. It solidified for me my desire to work with people in community spaces,” she said.