AWS Public Sector Blog

How National University worked with AWS Partner ConcernCenter to provide scalable, customizable mental health support

At National University (NU), a California-based university serving a high proportion of military and adult learners, the COVID-19 pandemic drove an increase in student requests for support. “We saw a major uptick in students seeking help due to difficult mental and financial circumstances during the pandemic,” said Ashley Maakestad, NU’s associate director of student wellness. The rising need for mental health resources put a strain on NU’s Student Wellness department—particularly on case managers who serve as frontline support for students seeking help.

With nearly 20,000 in-classroom and online students nationwide, offering quality support during the pandemic was challenging. Student resources needed to be customizable by location, student type, and particular circumstances, such as veteran status. “We needed to find a way to address a growing number of requests while making sure that each student receives pertinent information and customized support,” Maakestad noted.

In May 2020, Maakestad began looking for a solution to support NU’s students through this crisis and beyond. After discovering ConcernCenter, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner, she knew she had found the answer.

Supporting mental wellness with a customizable platform

ConcernCenter provides an online platform through which communities can access a tailored menu of mental wellness support options customized to the individual user’s needs. Erin Halligan-Avery, president of ConcernCenter, founded the company to fill the vast demand for student services that she witnessed firsthand working as a case manager in higher education. Halligan-Avery felt frustrated when her department experienced a 141% increase in student concern referrals. With the department’s attention focused on helping students in crisis, many other struggling students couldn’t access prevention-related help. “We had no bandwidth to address lower-level prevention concerns,” said Halligan-Avery. “I knew I had to find a way to help people help themselves.”

Customized resources that empower both students and faculty

ConcernCenter’s platform gives NU the control they need on the backend to customize their site to meet the unique needs of their student body. For instance, Maakestad’s team can highlight local, in-person resources for on-campus students while making sure that virtual resources are available to NU students everywhere. Students seeking help can also search for assistance that’s accessible 24/7 or request one-on-one case management support.

ConcernCenter has become an essential resource for NU faculty. The platform empowers NU faculty and staff to offer students more than traditional academic assistance. Now, when students bring up issues to their instructors beyond class content, from replacing a broken laptop to dealing with a personal loss, faculty can provide students with a direct link to the appropriate resources available within ConcernCenter.

How successful has ConcernCenter been for NU? In its first two years, the platform received over 4,000 unique users and 10,000 page views. “If 4,000 students reached out directly to our department, it would be challenging for us to address each query promptly,” Maakestad noted. “ConcernCenter allows us to get students the resources they need without additional strain on the department.”

Security and availability powered by AWS

Working with colleges and universities to handle sensitive issues means that security and availability are both paramount, which is why ConcernCenter’s tech team chose to build the platform on AWS. “The AWS Cloud allows us to scale our resources up or down based on our customers’ business needs,” said Gage Castro, senior developer at ConcernCenter. “Our customers’ data is kept secure through AWS’s range of security features and compliance with relevant security standards, including HITRUST and ISO/IEC 27001.”

Most importantly, the resources housed on ConcernCenter must always be available for NU’s students, who often squeeze schoolwork into hours after work or family time. “Many of our students are working and attending school. They lead busy lives,” said Maakestad. “It’s our job to ensure that the resources they’re looking for are available whenever they have a moment to seek support.” Because AWS offers multiple Availability Zones and high reliability, ConcernCenter is accessible whenever and wherever students need it.

Focusing on improving student mental wellness

Working with ConcernCenter helps NU connect their student body with the help they need, and with the AWS Cloud providing the foundation, both organizations can focus on providing the best resources for students without worrying about technology infrastructure.

“Life is not one-size-fits-all for the students we support. Thankfully, ConcernCenter doesn’t just offer real-time access to help—it also allows students to reach out in the way that suits them the best,” said Maakestad. “And as our university continues to grow, ConcernCenter ensures that student wellness scales with it.”

Hundreds of colleges and universities rely on the AWS Cloud for security and scalability. To learn more, refer to The AWS Cloud for Higher Education or read more stories on higher education on the AWS Public Sector Blog.

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Kristi Wellingon Baker

Kristi Wellingon Baker

Dr. Kristi Wellington Baker serves as the higher education student experience strategy lead at Amazon Web Services (AWS) focused on working with higher education leaders to meet their mission and student success goals through student and community engagement, teaching and learning, and removing friction from administrative processes. She began her career in higher education 20 years ago and has served in various leadership roles in student affairs and education policy advocacy throughout her career. Her experience on campus included leadership of access, persistence, and completion efforts resulting in significantly improved outcomes, and opportunities to scale strategic initiatives across multiple institutions. In addition to her campus experience, she completed the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship, engaged in research and consulting across two- and four-year higher education institutions. Prior to moving to AWS, she served as the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges Director of Student Success and Strategic Initiatives, securing the largest legislative investment in community and technical colleges in the history of the state.