Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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Recent Findings

Recent Findings: Critical Research Projects

The purpose of the Critical Research Projects is to fund faculty engaging in important school mental health research. These funded faculty engaged in a competitive application process and were awarded funding for a half-time graduate research assistant for one year to support their work.

Below are the abstracts summarizing the findings for each project. Please reach out to Ashley Rila via email,, for questions.

Iowa School Psychologists Needs Assessment to Determine Current Social-Emotional-Behavioral Health Supports

School psychologists are uniquely poised to address the social emotional and behavioral health needs of school children and their families. For school psychologists to effect positive outcomes for children, adolescents, and school staff in our schools, we need to determine the capacity of school systems to identify, intervene, progress monitor, and support school psychologists in their buildings.

To do this, our research team developed a brief survey for school psychologists to capture details of the current state of social, emotional, behavioral health (SEBH) professional development in the schools that they serve. It is unclear whether school psychologists believe that they are prepared or know of professional development opportunities to serve children and youth who need mental health support in a timely manner.

The primary goal of this research was to identify the capacity of school psychologists to address SEBH in their environments and to build the foundation for timely and effective professional development. With the continuing school psychologist shortages, it is important that current school psychologists receive the resources and support they need to meet the mental health needs of children and youth and alleviate the crisis currently felt across the state of Iowa.

Team Members
Ann Santos, Clinical Associate Professor of School Psychology, University of Iowa
Graduate Assistant
Sabrina Kelbe, PhD student in School Psychology
Enedina Vazquez
Enedina García-Vázquez, Clinical Professor of School Psychology, University of Iowa
Graduate Assistant
Yuqing Zou, PhD Student in Learning Sciences and Educational Psychology

School of the Wild Project

There were two main purposes of this project. First, we assessed the current practices at the University of Iowa’s, School of the Wild program to determine how social emotional learning outcomes were being addressed in the program, compared the program to similar types of outdoor education programs in the United States and internationally, and investigated pedagogical frameworks used in outdoor learning. Additionally, we determined how the current program aligns with CASEL and Iowa social-emotional learning competencies.

After the research above was completed, we designed and conducted a pilot study at the School of the Wild to investigate the following question: What experiences do students at School of the Wild encounter that allows them to connect with their emotions? Following observations, focus group interviews with students and student journal entries were collected. The findings indicate that overall, students at School of the Wild gained experience in talking about and managing their emotions. Students experienced a broad spectrum of ways in which they could talk beyond just their feelings but also physical feelings. Students were provided opportunities to write, reflect, and meditate independently from their peers to check in with their physical and mental bodies.

Team Members
jay gorsch
Jay Gorsh, Director, School of the Wild, University of Iowa
Graduate Assistant
Tara Tedrow, PhD student in Science Education
Team Member Photo
Graduate Assistant
Mandy Dunphy, PhD student in Science Education

COVID Impacts on the Transition to College and Student Mental Health

The purpose of this study was to explore factors related to mental health and the adjustment to college among students who transitioned from high school to college during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research questions were: (1) How has COVID-19 impacted students’ transition from high school to college? and (2) To what extent are COVID-19 impacts and stress related to mental health and well-being? We used a cross-sectional, correlational design that involved collecting data using an online survey during the 2022 spring semester. A total of 99 students aged 18 to 24 years old, who graduated from high school in Spring 2020 or Spring 2021 and began their first year of college in Fall 2020 or Fall 2021 responded to our survey.

Results indicate that 21% of respondents indicated COVID-19 caused a change in their intended college major and 23% were unable to attend their first-choice college due to family finances (12%), choosing a college closer to their home and social network (10%), and being unable to complete a campus visit (7%). Regarding disruptions to friendships and social support, respondents indicated that about 20% reported losing a friendship due to differing opinions on mask wearing, about 25% reported losing a friendship due to differing opinions on the COVID-19 vaccination, and about 44% reported losing a friendship due to differing opinions about politics.

We also ran a series of 3-step hierarchical multiple regressions. The outcome variables were anxiety, depression, and flourishing. Political orientation was marginally related to anxiety. Participants who identified as more conservative reported less anxiety. Participants whose spring semester high school classes were virtual or hybrid and who identified more significant impacts of COVID-19 on their transition to college reported more anxiety. Perceptions of COVID-19 stress were positively related to anxiety. Participants who identified as more conservative reported less depression. Spring semester high school classes being virtual or hybrid was marginally related to depression. Perceptions of COVID-19 stress were positively related to depression. Participants who identified as more conservative reported more flourishing. Neither of the objective COVID-19 impact measures were related to flourishing. Perceptions of COVID-19 stress were negatively related to flourishing.

Team Members
Stacey McElroy-Haltzel
Dr. Stacey E. McElroy-Heltzel, Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa
Graduate Assistant
Michael Suresh, Doctoral Student in Counseling Psychology PhD Program

Assessment Literacy for School Mental Health Professionals: A Literature Review and Recommendations for Training Materials

The purpose of this project was to determine the state of assessment literacy training mental health professionals are provided and to develop an outline of a workshop for assessment literacy professional development. A literature review was conducted that found little written about the needs for assessment literacy in mental health professionals. A workshop outline was developed that addressed the unique nature of assessments for mental health versus academic assessments (where most assessment literacy papers are based). The developed training workshop covers essential knowledge about assessments including the definitions, purpose of mental health and psychological testing, how to assess students, types of assessment measures, data analysis, reporting, practical concerns, and ethical considerations. Additionally, the workshop includes a hands-on application to assess participant learning.

Team Members
Dr. Jonathan Templin
Jonathan Templin, Professor of Educational Measurement and Statistics, University of Iowa
Graduate Assistant
Farhan Niazi, PhD student in Educational Measurement and Statistics Program

Analysis of Unstructured Data to Identify Student Support Needs

The purpose of this study was to better understand the possible educational applications of artificial intelligence techniques. We employed a three-step data labeling process that used previously identified mental health symptoms (i.e., prior classification system), natural language processing, and reliability and validity feedback from content experts. Using unstructured student text data, we identified mental health symptoms of high school students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had been accepted into to a postsecondary education transition program at a large Midwest university.

We analyzed Intellectual Assessments (IAs) and Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for 78 adults aged between 16 and 21 years old with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability from 2015 to 2022. Analysis of the records extracted 2062 quotations associated with 27 different mental health symptoms. Preliminary analysis revealed quotations were associated with attention issues (20%), anxiety (13%), depressive mood (6%), focus issues (6%), hyperactivity (6%), restlessness (6%), weight and appetite issues (5.9%), feeling lost (5%), lack of insight (4%), and sleeping issues (3.8%). Subjectivity analysis revealed that the text from documents submitted between 2020 and 2022 were more neutral and objective compared to the text found within the 2015 to 2019 documents. More text data were able to be pulled for male students compared to female students for both the IAs and IEPs. Students in this study showed that they have co-existing executive functioning needs and higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Team Members
Erica Kaldenberg, Associate Research Scientist - Realizing Education and Career Hopes (REACH)
Graduate Assistant
Mingying Zheng, PhD Candidate in Educational Measurement and Statistics