Dr. Amanda Gale (Interior Architecture) wins new grant to study effects of multi-sensory environments on college students

Posted on October 25, 2022

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Dr. Amanda Gale, Associate Professor in the Department of Interior Architecture, has received a grant from the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) for her proposal “Multi-Sensory Environments as a Catalyst for Student Resiliency within Higher Education.” The award is through the Stantec Innovation Partnership grant, which “invites a student/academic research team to partner with a Stantec practitioner to explore a question of interest… as they pertain to either workplace, healthcare, or educational facilities.”  Stantec is a global design firm.

Dr. Gale’s team will explore design strategies for campus environments that seek to foster students’ resilience by mitigating anxiety and stress. The abstract below provides more information about this project.

Prior to COVID 19, studies showed that students were exhibiting disturbing rates of anxiety and stress (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2017). After COVID hit, statistics became even more alarming. According to a Boston University study, anxiety has reached the highest levels on record, with half of students screening positive for depression or anxiety (McAlpine, 2021). According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (2021), anxiety continues to be the most common concern reported by students at college counseling centers. Stress was the second followed by depression. Anxiety and stress can affect students’ ability to concentrate, their social interactions, and desire to succeed (Son et al., 2020).

Colleges and universities have seen the need to help students cope with the stressors that are affecting them. Programs addressing mental health, student wellness, and stress management have proliferated (Brown, 2018). As a result, a few universities have begun incorporating multi-sensory environments on campus (Helton, 2022). Multi-sensory environments have been used with positive results since the 1970s to provide stimulation and interaction to individuals suffering from a variety of cognitive dysfunctions (Grace, 2020). The ability of a multi-sensory environment to reduce perceived levels of stress has been studied on pregnant women (Staal et al., 2012), people with developmental disabilities and dementia, (Lancioni, et al 2002), and children with ADHD and Autism (Unwin, et al, 2021). However, what is missing from research is how multisensory environments can help college students cope with pressures of academia. Therefore, this study will be undertaken to explore the effect of multi-sensory environments on students’ perceived anxiety and stress, the two most commonly treated issues on college campuses.

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