Newly Updated Virtual Mental Health Training Equips College Students to Support Peers in Distress

Enhancements to Kognito’s higher education simulation better address the needs of today’s college students through skill-building.

NEW YORK, July 16, 2020 — As colleges and universities prepare to meet the mental health needs of students—who may or may not be on campus in the fall due to COVID-19—many are looking to virtual solutions. Kognito, a health simulation company, announced updates to its evidence-based virtual simulation At-Risk Mental Health for Students as a flexible online mental health training to help colleges improve students’ ability to succeed in 2020 and beyond.

The new 40-minute At-Risk simulation emphasizes building skills that promote positive coping, help-seeking, positive self-concept, and growth mindset. Students engage with virtual students to recognize signs of distress in themselves and peers, and practice effective communication techniques to give peers support. Colleges can add their own custom resources into the simulation to expand student knowledge of mental health support outside of the counseling center, through programming like wellness programs, peer support groups, and academic counseling.

Since its launch in 2010, over 300,000 students across over 300 institutions have used the original At-Risk for University Students simulation. During this time, numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of this simulation to increase conversations and help-seeking behaviors in students, including a recent randomized control trial conducted by Fordham University published in the Journal of the American Association of Suicidology. Universities often pair the simulation with its faculty counterpart, At-Risk for Faculty & Staff, which trains campus employees to talk with students about mental health and heightens awareness of their gatekeeping role within a community of care.

Updates to At-Risk are based on how higher education’s response to student mental health has evolved over the past decade. Students face more stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before, accounting for an average 30-40% increase in counseling center utilization from 2009 to 2015, while enrollment grew by only 5%. Meanwhile, students are entering college lacking coping and resiliency skills compared to classes before them.

Dr. Victor Schwartz, Chief Medical Officer at The Jed Foundation (JED), was one of the subject matter experts who partnered with Kognito to help develop the At-Risk simulation’s updates. Dr. Schwartz was joined by counseling and student services leaders involved in the development process to ensure that the updated content reflected the current needs of college students.

“We’ve seen the mental health needs of the college student change and evolve,” says Dr. Schwartz.  “We know peer support on campus is a critical resource, since two-thirds of college students who are feeling suicidal will tell a friend first. Simulation technology is unique in that it can tailor content to individual students based on their existing knowledge, and give them a safe space to practice difficult conversations. Getting that confidence through a simulation like At-Risk is going to connect more students and support early intervention.”

“This evolution of At-Risk reflects the current needs of today’s college student. While there are many unknowns about the future, we know that there will be an essential need for students to learn about mental health, support, and resiliency,” says Dr. Glenn Albright, Kognito Co-Founder and Director of Research. “Analyzing the changes we’ve seen in student attitudes and behavior from data collected over ten years, plus in pairing subject matter expertise with cutting edge simulation technology, we’re confident that At-Risk Mental Health for Students will continue to make an impact on many lives through conversation and connection.”

As institutions continue to navigate this period of uncertainty, many are looking to At-Risk Mental Health for Students given its online accessibility for remote students and effective format that quickly builds essential skills around mental health and peer-to-peer support. More information on At-Risk Mental Health for Students is available on Kognito’s website.

About Kognito
Kognito is a health simulation company whose evidence-based simulations harness the power of role-play conversations with virtual humans to improve social, emotional, and physical health. Learn more at

Employee Spotlight: Mindy Michalek

As the director of marketing for ClickSafety, Mindy Michalek leads a creative and hard working team dedicated to ClickSafety’s marketing and eCommerce strategy. Her main focus is to ensure that the marketing team aligns closely with the other ClickSafety departments, as well as collaborate with multiple Ascend shared service teams and with her fellow colleagues in the other Professional Education divisions. When it comes to focusing on goals, hers include making sure the team helps to hit the revenue targets, executing on key eCommerce and lead generating platform implementations, and executing and optimizing our marketing efforts. 

Outside of work, you can usually find Mindy at one of her kid’s soccer, track or basketball games (pre-COVID-19)She says she’s also rather competitive herself and enjoys playing softball and soccer. She balances her competitive side by spending time outside enjoying her garden and flowers or going for long walks. 


Q. What does an average day look like for you and your job?

A. An average day includes collaborative efforts with our product, sales and technology teams to make sure we’re bringing the right products and the right eCommerce/technology experience to our customer base. Mindy enjoys partnering with her talented team as they focus their efforts primarily on pay-per-click search engine advertising, emails, conferences, website experience, social platforms and the analytics needed to drive ROI positive marketing efforts. 

Q. What is one career lesson you’ve learned?

A. One important career lesson I learned early on is to allow the space for everyone to be an expert in their area of specialization. For example, when I work with creative designers, I always lay out the scope and goals of a project, and I try very hard to not dictate the final product vision. I’ve found that when I allow others to have creative liberty, they come up with ideas I’ve not considered, and the final product turns out to be better than I could have envisioned. This approach also requires any ego to be removed and results in professional relationships with mutual respect.

Q. What is one word that you would use to describe your work team, and why did you choose that word?

A. I consider myself to have two teams… One word to describe my marketing team would be “accountable.” I chose this word because each member of our team is consistently dependable and owns their work each and every day. One word to describe my ClickSafety team would be “driven.” The ClickSafety team as a whole is a very driven and passionate group, which is showcased daily by the quality of work output, as well as by the dedication to our customers and to each other. 

Q. What is one thing that people are surprised to find out about you?

A. I grew up on a horse farm in extreme Western NY (about an hour south of Buffalo). We very much lived off the land. Our garden was the size of an Olympic swimming pool, which matters because that’s a lot of weeding…81 hills of potatoes…9 rows x 9 hills…I digress. Also, horse chores before school, four-wheelers, hitting rocks with broom sticks to practice my softball swing, damning up a swimming hole in the creek …you name it…I fit the mold of the middle-of nowhere farmgirl for the first 18 years of my life. Those early years helped build character, responsibility, work ethic…the longing for having a store closer than 45 minutes away…and the desire to live somewhere that had less snow (i.e. not every Halloween and prom). 

Q. What book, movie or television show would you recommend people read or watch?

A. Since we’re all staying home right now, I would like to recommend a couple Netflix shows to keep you entertained. I recently binge-watched Ozark with Jason Bateman. It’s an incredible and intense 3-season series that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you need less intensity and more humor, I’d also recommend Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. I’m intrigued by hearing how the comedic mind works, and this series is a bunch of quick episodes with legendary comedians. 


We’re thankful for our talented team members and how they help us change lives! 

Leading in a Virtual Environment

An excerpt from Ascend Learning & Development Team’s “Leading in a Virtual Environment training article.

While so many of us across the country continue to lead and manage our people and our teams virtually, we thought these useful virtual managing insights from our own internal Ascend Learning-Learning & Development Team could help all managers. This excerpt from our internal training provides remote meeting and relationship building tips and provides fresh perspective on virtual leading. As we all continue to evolve as virtual leaders and remote employees, we hope this article will help you and your teams feel more included and cared for as we learn how to become better overall virtual people managers, employees and resilient leaders.


As leaders of virtual teams, it is easy to fall into the common trap of remote management – focusing too heavily on employee engagement activities, while overlooking the development and maintenance of trust in our relationships.  Although virtual happy hours, Skype coffee chats, and Zoom birthdays are important for connectivity, some of your team members have more critical needs to tend to before they can worry about any sense of belongingness. Whether a spouse has lost a job, a single parent is balancing work and childcare obligations, or a shared apartment is not setup for a Tetris-like schedule of back-to-back video conference calls, some of your team members are feeling vulnerable and in need of help.


Cultivating a Trusting Culture from Afar

The problem is, not everyone feels safe enough to raise their hand and ask for help – especially when remote. It then becomes our job as remote managers, to proactively and passionately nurture an environment of trust amongst all members of the team so that help can be solicited, and support offered. Below are three quick and actionable behaviors and strategies to help foster trusting cultures on our teams right now.


  • Offload Distractions: Most virtual team meetings start with some ritualistic version of small talk. What if instead at the beginning of the meeting, you simply ask every participant to answer, “what’s in the background for you today?” Meaning, what are they worried about or distracted by at this moment in time? It’s not for the purpose of setting an agenda, but rather, it’s about getting everyone in the room present, offloading any preoccupations, and pressing ahead.  Using this technique can reduce the Cognitive Demand a distraction has on you, and increases your team’s focus and performance for the meeting at hand.


  • Prime Contributions: While most remote teams have tools to store knowledge (i.e. CRM systems) or platforms to transfer knowledge (i.e. Instant Messaging), virtual communication often discourages actually contributing knowledge in real-time. To reap the benefits of a fully engaged and contributory virtual team, turn on your video and ask your team members to do the same. Although we all have excuses for not wanting to ‘be on’ (ahem humidity hair anyone?!), scientists have discovered that establishing face-to-face communication can increase a team’s performance by 35%[1]! In fact, we are more likely to contribute our insights and opinions when we can see nonverbal cues from our audience on how well we are being received. Once on video, encourage equality of all voices by actively soliciting perspectives individually instead of letting the loudest and most talkative fill the airspace.


  • Lead Out Loud: Subtlety evaporates in virtual communication. Leading from a distance requires us to exemplify integrity, display vulnerability, and embody candor louder and more often than in-person. Leading out loud means role modeling visibly, audibly and regularly the type of communication and actions that you expect from your team. Anticipate miscommunications amongst the team by taking the few extra minutes to clarify any expectations, points of view or actions that might be misinterpreted. When an opinion rubs you or others the wrong way, role model the habit of Assuming Benevolent Intent. Position your responses from a state of curiosity (rather than judgement), clarify for understanding and listen for what is right about the opinion being discussed. Some examples of leading out loud are:
  • “I want to make sure I am understanding your point of view, do you mind clarifying what you meant by…”
  • “As an FYI, Jillian needs to hop off early this afternoon, so please ask her any questions you have before half past or follow up with an email.”
  • “Thank you for telling me upfront about the batch error, I had a similar issue myself a few years ago…”
  • “Apologies for needing to check my phone constantly, my son is sick today and I am expecting a call from the doctor.”


About the Authors:

Carolyn Vasquez is Ascend Learning’s Talent Development Manager. She is responsible for the design, management and implementation of ongoing and new leadership and development initiatives across the Ascend organization.


Madelyn Wilson leads the talent management and development efforts across Ascend Learning including executive development, succession planning, performance management, and company-wide learning and leadership development initiatives, in addition to her role as HR Business Partner for the Professional Education and Legal groups.


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[1] Harvard Business Review. (April, 2012). The New Science of Building Great Teams. Harvard Business Review.