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Trauma in Covid-19

Do you find yourself avoiding subjects you enjoyed or even worse, you’ve completely lost interest in learning? Are you having moments of adrenaline burst when you’re just sitting around doing nothing? What about laughing at something serious or feeling really sad at something funny? Those deadlines that came at the end of the semester, did you find yourself wanting to throw your hands up and ignore them completely? This is how our responses can be when we’ve been exposed to a traumatic event. We are all collectively experiencing a worldwide traumatic event from Covid-19 in varying degrees.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

When something traumatic occurs, depending on several risk factors and intensity, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD can develop. The symptoms of PTSD include reliving the event in nightmares, avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, having negative changes in your beliefs, and feeling keyed up. Trauma can present as willful disobedience, extreme distrust, difficulty managing friendships, and extreme or unmatched emotions. We can all see how this is playing out across social media in regards to people’s responses to Covid-19: extreme distrust, rampant conspiracy theories, or even denial of the seriousness of our situation.

Trauma Affects the Brain

Trauma changes the brain. When someone experiences a scary event, their brain is flooded with stress hormones to keep them safe. For example, when triggered your brain will take over your body with the stress hormones that will signal you to either fight, flight, or freeze. This is a natural response that our brain and body do to keep us alive and safe. For COVID-19 this probably looks like protesting at the state capital (fighting), an obsessive hoarding of toilet paper (flight), or being paralyzed in fear (freeze).

The key is to settle your brain is by disarming the fear. There are some practical strategies you can use to bring yourself a sense of control and relief. How do we do that? 

Take Control

  • Nurture Relationships: First and foremost; positive, healthy, consistent relationships are key! Stay connected with people you care about. Take advantage of the technology we have. Facetime, Zoom, Google Hang, send Tik Tok challenges or play video games with your friends. 
  • Create safe spaces: Have an oasis in your home. Now, this may simply mean making your bed and putting away your laundry. Consider what you need in your space to feel safe and comfortable. Do that. 
  • Make healthy choices: Be intentional about what you’re putting in your body. Staying hydrated and fueled will tell your brain you’re safe. Keep a water bottle with you with cold refreshing water and every couple of hours have a healthy snack like a piece of fruit, a protein bar, or trail mix. (Coke and Hot Taakis do not count). Get moving, especially when the sun is out. It’s still safe to go for a walk as long as you’re maintaining 6 feet distance from others.
  • Regulate your thoughts: Practice deep breathing; so deep that your tummy expands and you can feel the air in the bottom of your lungs. Use your imagination to visualize a place you’d rather be like dancing at a Second Line. Take notice of the things around you that you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.

Most importantly, if your experience of COVID-19 is unbearable and you need more support, reach out! The Louisiana Department of Health has launched a mental health hotline, “Keeping Calm Through COVID,” at 1-866-310-7977. It is open 24/7.

Need more coping strategies? Check out our blog Minding Your Mental Health during Covid-19.


How We’re Coping During Social Distancing.

We value caring.

At College Beyond caring is one of our core values. We are genuinely concerned about each others’ well-being. During social distancing, we make an extra effort to make sure both our staff and students are mentally and physically well. Here’s a look at how College Beyond is practicing mindfulness and minding our mental health during Covid-19.

Coping During Covid

Dr. Erin Wheeler, Executive Director 

“I make sure to spend time outside like going for a walk or working outdoors.  I limit my exposure to social media and news.  I make sure I am listening to positive motivational videos or podcasts. I am also making efforts to create boundaries for work and life.”

Erica Martinez, Program Director

“I take time to focus on the things I can control, like spending time with my family and checking in on my neighbors and try let go of the things I can’t control. I’m also being more intentional about buying local fruit and vegetables to support local businesses and to have healthy options at home.”

Michelle Anaba, AmeriCorps Vista Member- Program Associate

“I make sure to get at least a  little bit of sun every day. Getting fresh air daily makes a noticeable difference when situations are stressful. It really helps to clear my mind and put things into perspective. I have also found that limiting news and social media helps to stop the constant barrage of negative information. I stay informed, but I don’t constantly keep up with all the details surrounding Covid-19. Lastly, I set a routine to keep myself from being overwhelmed. This helps me to set realistic goals, and keep track of everything I need to accomplish. Setting a routine also helps me to make time for breaks and create a work/life balance.”

Sarah Payne, Director of Strategy 

“I’m trying to make time to connect with loved ones and to move my body. I also take some time every day to check in with myself, asking: What feelings are coming up for me? What does this feeling want for me? What does it need? When I do this, I’m trying to just allow my feelings to happen, recognizing that they will change, like the weather. I’m trying to be friendly toward them, regardless of how they show up.”

Here’s more tips on how to protect your mental wellness during Covid-19.


Minding Your Mental Wellness During Covid-19

Mental Wellness and Social Distancing

Covid-19 has rapidly brought about many changes to our lifestyle.  There’s a great deal of concern for our physical health.  We are paying more attention to our bodies as we monitor signs of illness.  We are washing our hands, wearing masks, and donning gloves. As much as we are caring and protecting our physical bodies, we must be as concerned for our mental wellness.  

The Covid-19 pandemic is something that we have never experienced in our lifetime.  The unknown triggers a variety of emotions. Social distancing has disrupted our lives in several ways and disturbance to our norm brings about fear, insecurity, and loneliness.  The flood of unprocessed emotions can have a significant effect on our mental health.  One of the keys to coping during the pandemic is mental wellness. Here are some tips on how to manage your well-being during Covid-19. 

Tips for Coping During Covid-19
  1. Unplug from reality. You can’t scroll past a post on social media and or flip through the channels on TV without seeing something about Covid-19.  Constant exposure to the media can significantly affect our mood without us realizing it. Set limits on the amount of time you spend on social media. Set a time to unplug from electronic devices altogether. 
  2. Get some sun.  Spending time outdoors not only helps get a change of scenery, but it can also help improve your mood.  Gaining exposure to sunlight can also help increase your levels of Vitamin D which guards against depression and boosts energy levels. 
  3. Exercise. Those extra steps we take walking to our cars, throughout campus, or from meeting to meeting add up.  Since social distancing, those steps are reduced since we are limited to the areas of our home.  Exercising helps to increase mobility and energy.  The endorphins produced by exercising improves your mood and alleviates stress and anxiety. 
  4. Give yourself the freedom to feel. We’ve all been affected by Covid-19. Permit yourself to feel the way you feel. Most importantly permit yourself to feel happy. Take time to process your thoughts and express your emotions.  Find a way to balance being empathetic to others while finding your joy. 
  5. Be kind to yourself. You may feel as though you have to prove yourself in terms of productivity.  Social distancing measures can rob you of your energy and your desire to function as normal. Give yourself some grace.  Just because it seems that you should have more time and energy to do more, does not mean that you do. Pace yourself and allow a little extra time to complete things. Take mental breaks when needed. Set aside time for self-care and relaxation.  Use the time normally spent commuting or participating in extracurricular activities to do things that make you happy that you wouldn’t normally have time for. 
  6. Seek counseling.  One of the benefits of social distancing is that counseling is more accessible. Mental health providers are now able to provide counseling via phone or video. Many health insurance providers are also waiving co-pays for behavioral health services during social distancing measures.  If you do not have insurance there are options to access free or affordable counseling. Psychology Today can help you find a local qualified therapist. 

As the pace of lives has slowed, we have an opportunity to spend more time reflecting and becoming more aware of ourselves. Being in tune with our emotions and mental health is a great place to begin.

At College Beyond, we value mindfulness and mental health. Take a look at how each of us is coping during the pandemic.


Job Opening: We’re looking for our next success coach!

The College Beyond team is growing. We are searching for a new College Success Coach to serve the University of New Orleans Class of 2024.

The College Success Coach is charged with supporting approximately 75-100 students to succeed in college, including providing academic, social, emotional, and financial coaching. The coach builds and maintains connections with key university and community resources, and executes our approach to student success: we ask students, “What do you want?” and we respond, “Let’s go get it!” We view ourselves as partners in helping students attain the goals they have for themselves and their families, and we believe a rigorous data-driven approach combined with student-responsive interventions are the key to success.

Key Objectives:

  • Support approximately 75-100 students to transition academically, socially, and financially to their first year of college and successfully re-enroll for their sophomore year
  • Build strong, trusting relationships with students and engage parents and families as key partners
  • Coach to support skill-building, problem-solving, self-awareness, and long-term independence
  • Support students to complete college enrollment steps including financial aid paperwork
  • Learn content and best practices associated with financial aid, college enrollment, and college persistence

Read full position announcement and application instructions here.

To Apply (by April 30th):

Please email résumé and cover letter to Dr. Erin Wheeler at ewheeler@collegebeyond.org by Thursday, April 30th. In one or both of these documents, please include a brief description of prior work-based results and how you achieved them.


2019 Impact Report: Replicating Results, Serving More Students

College Beyond freshman Megan Stackhouse

With our fourth annual Impact Report, the College Beyond team is excited to share that College Beyond’s students closed the freshman retention gap at the University of New Orleans for the second year in a row.

Last year, we announced that our students accomplished this for a first time by increasing their retention rate by over 20 percentage points. This year, we replicated those results while serving more students.

This means that our students — who face longer-than-average odds of college graduation — are persisting in college at the same (actually, a slightly higher!) rate than their more privileged peers.

Download the full report here.

The report also details some exciting organizational changes at College Beyond, and introduces our new Executive Director, Dr. Erin Wheeler.

None of this would be possible without the students, families, staff, board members, and supporters who invest their time, hearts, and resources in this work every day. Many thanks and kudos to all for your dedication!


College Beyond Welcomes Local College Persistence Leader as New Executive Director

College Beyond’s Board of Directors is delighted to announce that Dr. Erin Wheeler, of Amite, LA, has been tapped to serve as the organization’s second Executive Director.

Dr. Erin Wheeler

A higher education innovator with over a decade of leadership in college success administration and social entrepreneurship, Dr. Wheeler began her tenure on August 5.

As a first-generation college student, Dr. Wheeler attended Southeastern Louisiana University, earning a B.S. in biology and serving as an advocate for her peers on the path to college completion. Passionate about both the value of higher education and about access and completion in STEM fields among underrepresented groups, Dr. Wheeler went on to earn an M.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in STEM Education from Southern University and A&M College.

At Louisiana State University, Dr. Wheeler served in the Center for Academic Success, helping students improve their learning and performance in tough STEM courses and supporting faculty to integrate effective teaching strategies into STEM curricula.

At LSU, she also led collaborative grant writing projects, retention initiatives, and faculty workshops that included the Colleges of Science and Engineering, and facilitated collaborations with residential life, multicultural affairs, and student life to provide holistic programming for students. She was responsible for innovating marketing and outreach efforts to increase the number of students utilizing tutoring and academic coaching services by implementing social media use, updating branding, and establishing engaging outreach activities.  She used her passion and talent for developing student leaders in revamping training and evaluation for the tutor and supplemental instruction programs. Dr. Wheeler also made significant contributions to campus wide retention initiatives that included the national renowned IMPACT program that targets students on academic probation.

Her achievements and leadership at LSU helped her to be recruited to join a new administration at Kentucky State University.  As part of President Raymond Burse’s transformation team, Dr. Wheeler was charged with re-envisioning the student success infrastructure to dramatically improve declining retention and graduation rates.   As Assistant Provost for Student Success and Retention, she made significant strides in improving institutional culture and metrics related to student success. Through a multifaceted strategic plan based on research, high-impact practices and embodied innovation, she was able to help the institution increase retention rates from 45% to 78% within two years.

After returning home to Louisiana, Dr. Wheeler continued her commitment to impacting individual college success by founding both a business which uses technology and an innovative business model to make college coaching services financially accessible to more first-generation, minority, and/or low-income students, and also by establishing a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing out-of-school programming to resource constrained rural communities like her hometown of Amite.

Dr. Wheeler has also served her community through various civic and religious organizations since childhood.  Currently, she is a board member and chief of staff of her mission-focused church, where she helps organize outreach events and capital campaigns.  She is also a charter member of a new chapter of Delta Sigma Theta that emphasizes resourcing rural areas of North Tangipahoa Parish. She is a regular volunteer at local high schools to help improve college preparation as well as to provide general support and assistance.

The College Beyond Board and staff wish Dr. Wheeler a warm welcome!


College Beyond Bids Farewell to Paris Woods

Nearly five years after its founding, College Beyond’s Board and team are wishing a fond farewell to Co-founder and Executive Director Paris Woods.

Outgoing Co-founder and Executive Director Paris Woods

Under Woods’s leadership, College Beyond forged a landmark partnership with the University of New Orleans. Through rigorous, data-driven and student-responsive programming, College Beyond closed the first-year retention gap between its participants–students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds in New Orleans–and the overall student population at UNO.

“I am very proud of the outcomes we have achieved through the tireless effort of our students and the dedication of our staff at College Beyond and our partners at UNO,” said Paris Woods. “Together, we are changing the narrative about what is possible in our city.”

“We are incredibly grateful for Paris’s leadership and impact as Co-founder and Executive Director of College Beyond,” said Board Chair Ben Kleban. “We have been inspired by her commitment to excellence and ability to tackle any challenge. Having raised nearly a million dollars in support of local youth, Paris has built an organization that fills a unique and highly needed role in the college access landscape of our city.”

Woods and co-founder, Sarah Payne, were selected to participate in several local nonprofit incubators including the 4.0 Schools Essentials and Launch programs, and the Propeller Startup and Growth accelerators. Woods tied for 1st place in the 2015 PitchNOLA Education competition, helped College Beyond become 1 of 6 inaugural recipients of the national Boulder Fund, and is a current member of the national Pahara NextGen Fellowship cohort.

“Our model is unique because it is open-access, and our students have proven that with adequate support, they are just as capable of succeeding in college as their more advantaged peers,” Woods added. “And none of this would be possible without the leading support of partners like the GPOA Foundation, Entergy Charitable Foundation, Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), the RosaMary, Keller, and Mary Freeman Wisdom family foundations, Pro Bono Publico, and the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust, who know that the future of New Orleans depends upon investing in the success of our most vulnerable youth today.”

Woods’s tenure in New Orleans college access work began as Director of Alumni Support at Cohen College Prep High School, where her efforts resulted in Cohen becoming the #1 open enrollment high school sending students to college. At Cohen, Woods helped 100% of students complete the FAFSA and was later selected to serve on the state’s Financial Aid Working Group, whose work helped Louisiana become the #1 state for FAFSA submissions nationwide.

College Beyond wishes Paris the very best in her future endeavors and looks forward to expanding the impact of its mission to help local students enroll and succeed in college.


Baptist Community Ministries Makes 3-Year Investment

College Beyond is delighted to announce that local philanthropic foundation Baptist Community Ministries (BCM) has made a $300,000, 3-year grant to College Beyond through its Transom Grants program.

BCM’s milestone gift supports program development and expansion of services for eligible first- and second-year students at the University of New Orleans.

Founded in 1995, Baptist Community Ministries is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Louisiana, serving five parishes in the Greater New Orleans Region. Learn more about BCM here.


Kresge Foundation Grant will Expand the College Beyond Program at UNO

The Kresge Foundation will provide a $75,000 grant to supplement the University of New Orleans and College Beyond partnership. College Beyond has been supporting students on the UNO campus since 2016. With this grant from the Kresge Foundation, College Beyond will be able to support up to 100 additional UNO students in its coaching program during the upcoming school year. Read more here !


Welcome, Mia Gonzales Washington!

College Beyond is delighted to welcome Mia Gonzales Washington to our team.

A New Orleans native, Mia comes to College Beyond with more than a decade of experience educating and coaching New Orleans students in K-12 and higher education institutions. She joins the organization as a College Success Coach focused on supporting our students at the University of New Orleans.

You can learn more about Mia on our Who We Are page.

Welcome, Mia!