MSU plans to use $1 million grant toward counseling services
MSU received a $1 million grant in order to improve college counseling.
The grant comes from the National Science Foundation and will be used to develop a system known as iSee. Researchers from the colleges of Engineering and Communication Arts and Sciences, as well as the MSU Counseling Center, are contributing to the project.
It’s estimated that about 10 percent of college students seek out counseling services, but the counselors aren’t always equipped to deal with that many students.
“Due to the budget cuts in recent years, counselors all over the country are short-staffed,” assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and head of the iSee project Mi Zhang said. “However, the number of students coming to the counselor center for services increased dramatically over the past decade. So you see there’s a significant disbalance between the needs and what we can provide.”
iSee uses smart phones and wristbands to monitor a patient’s health and collect data about their mental state. They look for things like physical activity, diet, sleeping habits, travel and social behavior to determine the user’s mental state.
“So iSee project contains several components, so one is that it will make use of sensing technologies to automatically connect student patients’ behavioral data,” assistant professor of communication and researcher on the iSee project Jingbo Meng said. “The data will be comprehensive to capture different dimensions of behaviors. The second component is that the computer scientists and engineers will give out a behavioral analytics so that will help to analyze and interpret the raw behavioral data.”
The data iSee collects about the wearer’s mental state is objective, which is something that can help counselors a great deal.
“The counselors normally need to count on the oral description from the student to understand their symptoms and their behaviors,” Zhang said. “Well, students who suffer from depression hardly can tell you very accurate information about what they have done in the past two weeks. This is where our technology comes into the picture and can help.”
iSee can allow counselors to see which patients need the most help and how to help those patients more efficiently.
“Particularly, I think it is useful to counselors because it helps counselors to better understand student patients’ experiences and life incidences,” Meng said. “Some counselors have mentioned that during the eight-week counseling processes, they have to spend the first half of their counseling session to actually understand the life and all the narratives that the student patients provided in the session. To the second half of the counseling session, then they can provide more tailored suggestions to the student patient.”
But Zhang emphasizes that this technology is not designed to replace counselors.
“It’s compliment,” Zhang said. “It’s basically to enhance their efficiency and quality as well as the efficacy.”
iSee is a three-year project that will begin in the fall or spring semester. It starts with the data, and the human component will be added later down the line.
“So the first step is the computer scientists and engineers,” Meng said. “They will develop an algorithm for behavioral recognition and develop behavioral analytics. They will work for probably the first and a half years of the project. So for the full deployment it will happen in the third year of the project. So we’ll run some studies in the second half of the second year.”
In the meantime, Zhang and his team are looking forward to the future of iSee.
“This is the first ever initiative using mobile technology to target the counseling service in the college counseling centers,” Zhang said. “So, with that said, if it’s successful, our technology or, in general, the MSU Counseling Center can act as a model for potentially all the counseling service centers across the country and that’s going to affect millions of students.”