Elevating Mental Health Through Experiential Learning at Clemson University

By Olivia Almeida and McKenna Miller


As the clock slowly ticks past 2 am, the exhaustion from the day’s demands weighs heavily on your shoulders. You are exhausted: between classes, work, and studying. The need to share the burden of your heavy mind becomes undeniable, yet you hesitate, not wanting to disturb anyone with these thoughts. In moments like these, the importance of mental health resources becomes glaringly apparent.

Student deliverable made in Ashley Fisk’s class

While the topic of mental health is becoming more normalized in conversation, stigmas relating to mental health remain due to misinformation, lack of information, and ignorance. This shortage of knowledge is a further problem if the lack of student following prevents students from being reminded of mental health resources at Clemson. Being unaware of Healthy Campus, a division of Student Health Services at Clemson, is an issue for students at Clemson struggling with mental health or needing extra support during their college transition. Healthy Campus resources are shared with first-year and transfer students during orientation, but continually reminding them of these resources throughout their college careers is essential. It is important to reach students through the faculty and Healthy Campus services. This past semester, two experiential learning classes partnered with Healthy Campus and the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation (OTEI) to address mental health issues in the classrooms and normalize conversations about mental health.

Ashley Fisk’s business-writing experiential learning classes have been working to combat this issue and to figure out new ways to destigmatize mental health misconceptions over the past few semesters. Fisk’s classes aim to expand the Healthy Campus audience to include more “involved students” and “harder-to-reach students.” Professor Fisk explains, “I have lived experience with mental health, and I sometimes share my journey with my classes. I do this so they see that it is okay to struggle, it is okay to focus on their mental health and that I do understand. Not all students struggle with mental health, but for those that don’t, it is also helpful for them to know how to talk about it and how to recognize signs among other students.” She is putting her experience at the forefront of class to bridge the gap between her testimony and an open conversation with students about the importance of mental health and that it is okay to need extra support.

Student deliverable made in Ashley Fisk’s class

Her class has worked alongside Taimi Olsen of OTEI and Delana Reynolds, Assistant Director for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Initiatives for Healthy Campus. Their mission is to help better inform and aid Olsen in training the teachers on the importance of student’s mental health and to help Reynolds highlight the challenges of reaching “unreachable” students. Olsen explained, “OTEI is a small office with a big mission! We love getting help from students and faculty partners and collaborating with other units. This is too big of an issue for just one office to address.” This partnership with Fisk’s class allowed Olsen to expand OTEI’s mission outside of faculty and implement long-term goals for normalizing this information to faculty and students while also giving students an experience outside their textbooks.

Over the last few semesters, the students have created deliverables to help promote the new 988 hotline and CAPS department by creating campaigns and sample posts for Clemson Healthy Campus social media accounts. Initiatives have included collaborating with faculty to go “old school” and present in front of classes about the importance of mental health and creating content for a new Clemson Canvas course, potentially becoming a standard default on every student’s page.

Student deliverable made in Ashley Fisk’s class

Fisk’s classes focused on collecting data to help better inform themselves and their initiatives. The research demonstrated many of the students’ stressors correlate to mental health problems. The statistics showed that 28.4% of students are diagnosed with anxiety, and 20.6% of students are diagnosed with depression. In student interviews, students expressed that they wish for professors to understand the importance of stressors existing outside of the classroom and that school is not the only contributing factor to stress and anxiety. In a poll, over 30% of the students answered they are employed; they have financial worries and relationship stresses outside school work. The collaboration with Clemson’s Canvas page and faculty would be a way to tackle many issues and make significant strides in advancing mental health awareness and battling these student statistics on anxiety and depression.

Students in Fisk’s class shared their testimonials reflecting on their mental initiative experience. Many students had a transformative and favorable outcome with this project and spoke highly of the campaign. Jake Alder, a student in the class, articulated the business writing experiential learning class’s profound impact on him. Alder recognized that students thrive in a supportive academic environment, “A successful classroom environment calls for critical empathy of its participants. Students don’t just expect this out of their administrators, but they require it,” stated Alder.  

Sara Cook, another student in Fisk’s class, shared her experience with the class as one that has catalyzed her personal growth and self-discovery. Cook stated, “I have learned not to be afraid to speak up when there may be a problem or if I want to advocate for a change. This service also helped me realize some people truly care about my mental health and that there are resources out there to help students like myself succeed and be happy.” 

Reynolds recognizes the value of experiential learning in college, emphasizing its role in preparing students for the professional world. Reynolds added, “Initiatives like Ashley’s class provide a platform for direct feedback, allowing Healthy Campus to assess the effectiveness of their programs and increase buy-in from the student population.” 

In the lonely hours of the night, when the weight of exhaustion and stress feels unbearable, knowing that resources are available and that the conversation about mental health is being actively promoted can provide a glimmer of hope. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone, and seeking help is acceptable and encouraged.

For more information on Clemson’s Healthy Campus’ resources and initiatives, visit here.


Mental Health Testimonials by Clemson Students


A freshman pursuing a biology major on the pre-med track sheds light on the demanding life of a student at Clemson University. Juggling 12-hour days filled with classes and coursework often feels overwhelming, especially on “school-work-heavy” days. Beyond academic challenges, the freshman struggles with the weight of future career concerns and the pressure to secure a spot in a prestigious medical school. Living on campus adds to the struggle by feeling trapped and searching for an outlet. The transition from excelling in high school to feeling average at Clemson has been a significant adjustment as well as family-related worries about funding the freshman’s education. The student advocates for a more personalized approach from faculty and staff, emphasizing that many students are doing their best, urging compassion and awareness from the university community.


A junior psychology major graduating a semester early shared her experience as a Clemson student. The student typically begins the day around 7:30 AM to attend campus activities and wrapping up by 2 PM. After-school hours are dedicated to an average of two hours daily of school work and engages in weekend employment. Struggling with work/life balance, they emphasized the need for a structured schedule to maintain productivity. The main concern revolves around post-graduation plans, causing considerable stress. The most challenging period occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic as the student reflected on the college experience. Establishing a routine and adapting to the new college environment proved demanding for the junior. When asked for a message to faculty, they emphasized the importance of listening to students’ perspectives carefully and thoughtfully. 


“S” is a senior nursing student. Along with a full schedule of classes, S is currently working a part-time clinical job in Greenville. On her 3 clinical days per week, she wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to go to Greenville for her 10-12 hour shifts.  On class days, S wakes up at around 8:00, drives to Greenville, and attends her classes there. S feels as though her life is consumed by work. On clinical days, she is left with only around 5 hours to make dinner and do other things, while all her time is taken with schoolwork on class days. On top of all this, her clinical pay is what is paying for her food, housing, and gas here. “I feel like my hardest time at Clemson is right now,” she said, “yet I have a cloud of student loans hanging over my head for when I get through it.” S thinks that, despite being well-aware of the problems students face and issues of mental health in the nursing industry, her professors view addressing mental health as a formality. “There’s not enough empathy,” she said.

“Tucking a mental health statement in the back of your syllabus doesn’t actually do anything.”