Simon Fraser, Central Oklahoma Award of Excellence Finalists
Simon Fraser and Central Oklahoma were among 26 institutions and two conferences named as Award of Excellence finalists.
Simon Fraser and Central Oklahoma were among 26 institutions and two conferences named as Award of Excellence finalists.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS – Two community outreach projects with connections to the GNAC have been selected as finalists for the 2022 NCAA Division II Award of Excellence.

Simon Fraser University was named the GNAC finalist for the school’s “Strengthening Mental Health” initiative, a multi-year program designed to increase resources and support for student mental health across campus.

The University of Central Oklahoma was also named a finalist for its Junior Rowing Program, a mentorship program designed to introduce middle and high school students to the sport. Named as the finalist for Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, Central Oklahoma is an affiliate member of the GNAC in women’s rowing.

The Award of Excellence program honors Division II members each year for conductive events that promote student-athletes giving back and serving as leaders within their communities or on their campuses. The national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee selects the winner, which will be announced at the Division II business session on January 22 at the NCAA Convention.

Each finalist will receive $500 to be used towards future SAAC initiatives or community engagement events. The winner will receive $2,500, the first runner-up will receive $1,250 and the second runner-up will receive $1,000.

Supporting students’ mental health is a central focus within the Simon Fraser student community and the institution’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has been a driving force behind increasing resources and support on campus for all students. During the global pandemic, SAAC shifted its focus to the health and well-being of students, launching a multi-year initiative to support the mental health and wellness of SFU students just as COVID-19 was negatively impacting their mental health.

SAAC launched a social media campaign to create awareness in the student community, held group zoom discussions, developed supports such as journal writing, meditation and podcasts. The campaign was created in consultation with SFU Health and Counseling and the Athletic and Recreation departments’ first-ever mental health caseworker, appointed in 2020. In addition, SAAC funded and presented a workshop – Fundamentals of Anti-Oppression – to address the many issues in today’s society that impacts the mental health of Black and Indigenous students.

Initially, SAAC launched a “Find Your Why” campaign to help students develop a more meaningful focus in their lives. “In our launch year, we wanted to focus on developing each individual’s personal inner strength, a foundation to good mental health,” said SAAC president Ryan Stolys.

This past year, SAAC focused its support around building resilience. A social media campaign was developed around #MentalHealthMonday and amplified by the 36 student-athletes on SAAC and SFU’s 400 student-athletes.

“As social influencers on campus, student-athletes used their social equity to talk openly and publicly about mental health issues and help students become more aware of available support,” said Stolys.  “Social media focused on a specific topic, provided information, suggestions, and resources to proactively improve mental health. Student-athletes have made it okay to talk about mental health struggles.”

Each month SAAC has a theme that is related to Resilience. That theme gives students a specific focus for the week through a “Mental Health Monday” social media post that provides a tip, podcast, music playlist or some kind of helpful activity that can improve one's mental health.

Central Oklahoma’s Junior Rower Program introduced students from underserved populations to the sport of rowing and gave them the op­portunity to learn more about higher education. In addition to the Central rowing program, several other areas across campus assisted, including Leadership Central, TRiO Upward Bound Math and Science, TRiO Talent Search and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).

The first group of students participating in the program included 19 students, all female, from metro area schools, ranging from the eighth to 10th grade.

The program kicked off during the Oklahoma Regatta Festival. The participating students met each weekend in October, primarily in the Boathouse District, with the final sessions on the UCO campus. The students wrapped up the inaugural program with a campus tour and were also recognized at the Central homecoming football game on October 23.