New Brunswick

UNB program aims to lower stress levels

A University of New Brunswick professor is trying an innovative way to help ease the stress levels of students and better prepare them for campus life.

'UNBetween' summer camp prepares students for student life

A University of New Brunswick professor has developed a new strategy to help students cope with high stress levels 2:15

A University of New Brunswick professor is trying an innovative way to help ease the stress levels of students and better prepare them for campus life.

The high stress levels of university students are an issue that schools across the country are struggling with. This time of year, university students are entering one of the most stressful periods of their year as exam season is underway,

Frank Collins, an assistant dean of engineering at UNB, said he recalls how intimidating it can be to be a first-year student.

Collins said he didn't want any of his students to feel the same amount of stress that he did so he started to think about ways to help young people better prepare for university.

Frank Collins, the assistant dean of engineer at UNB, designed the UNBetween program to help students adjust to stressful situations. (CBC)

Two years ago, Collins launched a week-long summer program called "UNBetween," which simulates the fifth week of an engineering student's first year.

That is the period when university students are being swamped with work and preparing for exams.

"They had us all set up in a residence, we go to know each o ther and the next day threw everything they could at us," said Johanne McPhee, a student who attended the summer program.

Alex Battah, another first-year student who attended the program, said he didn't have any first-year jitters when he arrived on campus in the fall.

He said the initiative has helped him prepare for life as a university student.

"Coming in September, we knew what to expect, our schedules, our lectures, how they were going to go. So we were a lot more laid back then people the first day who didn't know what to expect," he said.

The UNB program has had other spin-off effects for the students.

Collins said the students who participated in the last two camps ended up with a full letter grade higher in their marks in their first year.

The engineering professor pointed out the camp included a wide array of students.

"The entering grade point average in the students who went to the camp was the same as the entering grade point average of the entry cohort overall for the faculty of engineering," he said.;

Achieving a B-plus instead of B can mean the difference between keeping a scholarship or not for many students. 

Battah said students are under a lot of pressure to succeed once they arrive on campus.

University of New Brunswick students are preparing for December exams. (CBC)

"There is big pressure to pass because you are here, you are paying a lot of money to be here so you want to make it," he said.

Those rising stress levels have been reflected in recent studies.

A study by Studentcare Networks, the largest student health insurer in the country, reported in November that Canadian post-secondary students’ antidepressant drug use has increased to the point where at many institutions, it has passed birth control pills.

Other Canadian universities are employing new tactics to reduce the stress levels among their students.

Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., just released more than 100 recommendations to help students overcome stress. The report came in light of four high-profile suicides in the past two years.

Dalhousie University in Halifax is trying a different approach to lower stress levels. The university is turning to furry, four-legged experts to help students deal with the stress of upcoming exams.

The student union has opened a Puppy Room where students can hang out with several dogs.

UNB in Fredericton will also be offering some "dazzling dog" therapy next week.

Students are encouraged to stop by the Student Union Building Ballroom on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. to cozy up with some canine companions.