Around the Quads

Stephanie King, Director of Student Wellness

KILLIAN YOUNG / COLUMBIA COLLEGE

Student wellness is such a big concept. How would you define it?

I’m a huge believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply put, it states that if basic requirements like food, housing, health, safety and belonging are not satisfied, that will impede an individual’s ability to attain self-actualization — things like education, passions, interests, identity. Essentially, when I think of an individual’s wellness, it often results in a question: “Is school the most important and immediate concern this student has right now?” And then, if not, “What does this student need to achieve a semblance of stability, and how can Columbia’s resources be helpful?”

What’s a typical day for you?

There is no typical day! I could work intensely with one student and their family for a few days. I often collaborate with colleagues in advising or student conduct to provide additional, specialized support to a student. At times I’m responding to immediate crises. I support students returning from medical leaves of absence. And I’m always welcoming to students who, at the advice of Counseling and Psychological Services or the Center for Career Education, have reached out to me. The work is dynamic, but fulfilling every day.

What’s the best part of your job?

Helping students, especially those who have had a setback. It’s not lost on me that completing a Columbia degree can have a significant impact on students’ lives and the lives of their families. It’s my goal to use every resource to help every student I meet complete their education, and in the process dispel the notion that it has to be done with no difficulty and that one’s record has to look perfect.

How has your work changed to support students in this extraordinary time? Is there advice or encouragement you can share as we head into the summer?

The past year (and counting) has been challenging for everyone and in so many ways. The pandemic has also had an incredible impact on higher education, particularly on students. We have been forced to make immediate decisions about how to continue academic operations while centering on the health and safety of students. All of us — students, families, faculty and staff — are banking on a collective understanding that we are doing the best we can. We have focused on providing a safe living community for students who need it most, while increasing access to Columbia resources around the globe. I encourage students to give themselves as much grace as possible. I encourage all students to find moments of rest and self-care.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise readers?

I was a competitive track and field athlete at Cornell. Many of the lessons I learned in sports I’ve used in my personal life and in my work. They have taught me how to “fail” at something, how to work harder, how to be persistent, how to celebrate a competitor and how to feel satisfied with my performance even if I did not win.