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2024 Mental Health Champion Awardees Announced


Four University of Iowa staff, faculty and students were announced as the 2024 Mental Health Champion Award recipients during the ceremony held Tuesday, April 30.  

The second-annual Mental Health Champion Award celebrates outstanding members of the University of Iowa community who help create and bolster a positive mental health and well-being culture. Their dedication to care inspires others to prioritize mental health in their own lives.  

“The Mental Health Champion Award provides a platform to elevate the voices of those making a positive impact on campus regarding mental health and well-being,” says Barry Schreier, College of Education professor of Counseling Psychology and director of higher education programs for the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health. “This year’s awardees are remarkably thoughtful, aware, and creative people helping this campus realize its strategic goal of embedding mental health and well-being into every aspect of campus.” 

The award also celebrates honorees’ commitment to advancing “Campus Mental Health” within the greater UI Strategic Plan. 

The ceremony was hosted at Hancher Auditorium, and included remarks from President Barbara Wilson and Provost Kevin Kregel.

Honorees were presented awards and then inducted into the UI Mental Health Champion Wall of Fame. 

These four awardees have exhibited an exemplary commitment to supporting mental health and well-being in the lives of co-workers, students, employees, and the greater UI campus community: 

Khyathi Gadag, Health Management and Policy Graduate Student, University of Iowa College of Public Health

Khyathi Gadag is a third-year Ph.D. student in the College of Public Health. The founder of the “Here to Help” peer mental health student organization, Gadag is a fierce advocate for student mental health supports. She used her role as president of the International Student Advisory Board to empower other members to participate in ‘Fresh Check Day’ and collaborated with other organizations to create the first ‘Wellness Around the World’ event. She also serves as the Mental Health Director of the Graduate & Professional Student Government. Gadag’s contributions to mental health are also evident through her research, as she used her first dissertation paper to examine access to tele-health supports in older adults.  

Khyathi engaged in discussion and support around the mental health needs of students and specifically graduate students at the University of Iowa. In multiple leadership roles, she strongly used her voice to engage in complex conversations about the importance of mental health resources on campus through the fostering of relationships, collaboration and leaving a last impact on those she engaged with.” 

-Heidi Schmitt, Assistant Director of Special Projects and Collegiate Recovery Program, University Counseling Service 

Amy Korthank, Senior Associate Director, Academic Support, University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Amy Korthank
Amy Korthank

Amy Korthank’s passion for mental health and well-being are felt campus-wide. In 2022, Korthank created the Undergraduate Student Academic Concern Form to empower both students and faculty to report when mental health matters are impacting a student’s academic performance. This form helps streamline connections between students, faculty, and proper support, taking unnecessary burdens off all parties involved. In her role as Senior Associate Director of Academic Support, Korthank provides people going through difficult academic situations with empathy and guidance. She has helped create a campus culture where students, staff, and faculty feel empowered to seek help and to openly share their struggles.  

“She goes above and beyond her role of academic support to ensure that students who are struggling with mental health challenges are provided with the resources they need. With 25 years of experience working at UI in various capacities, Amy also provides an excellent role model for students in the way that she attends to her own self-care and mental health priorities.” 

Cornelia Lang, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences  

Ainsley Shird, Green Bandana Project, Undergraduate Student

Ainsley Shird
Ainsley Shird

Ainsley Shird, president of the UI Green Bandana Project (GBP), saw an opportunity to bolster campus mental health supports. In 2022, Shird spearheaded the effort to turn the GBP, a movement to train students in suicide prevention and awareness, into an official UI student organization. In two years, she has fostered GBP into a 350+ person community dedicated to destigmatizing and supporting mental health. She has helped create a network of positive mental health supports, creating partnerships with UI colleges and departments and local community organizations. Shird boldly showcases the strength it takes to be advocating for campus-wide mental health while also prioritizing your own, openly sharing her mental health journey during GBP meetings and events.  

“Her efforts go beyond the ordinary, reflecting a deep dedication to creating an environment that values and recognizes the importance of mental health for students, faculty, employees, and staff. This work has fostered a community of like-minded people that share and promote the idea of supporting an individual’s mental health journey.” 

-Tracy Hufford, Lecturer, School of Journalism and Mass Communication 

Theresa Bechtel, Associate Professor of Instruction, University of Iowa College of Nursing

Theresa Betchel
Theresa Bechtel

Theresa Bechtel has infused mental health and well-being into all facets of her role in the College of Nursing (CON). As an instructor, she teaches well-being practices like mindfulness in her courses, emphasizing the need to prioritize mental health in a fast-paced health care world. Bechtel’s ‘Mental Health Wellness Toolbox,’ initially created for CON, has transformed into “HealthyMinds HealthyHawks,” and supports the mental health of the wider UI community. Betchel worked closely with campus partners to make sure all mental health materials were accessible to people with varying learning needs. Her commitment to well-being is seen most vividly in the caring relationships she fosters with all students, staff, and faculty. 

Her unwavering dedication to the well-being of our campus community, combined with her holistic and inclusive approach to mental health and well-being advocacy, sets her apart as a true leader at the University of Iowa.” 

Anita Nicholson, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, College of Nursing 

Nominations for the Mental Health Champion Award were accepted January 17 – February 9, 2024. A cross-campus committee representing the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health, Employee Assistance Program, Graduate and Professional Student Government, Undergraduate Student Government, University Counseling Service, and the Women’s Resource & Action Center reviewed and rated the nominations.