Simulation trains professors to help distressed students

An online simulation program uses role-play conversations with virtual humans, also known as avatars, to teach people how to identify signs of distress and then respond to those who might be at risk.

Colleges throughout the country are using the program Kognito at Risk to help its students tackle anxiety, stress, thoughts of suicide, and depression. St. John's University is one of them. The university has been using Kognito at Risk for faculty and staff since 2011.

A national survey showed that more than 86 percent of college students felt overwhelmed and more than 60 percent felt very anxious it, according to Eileen Caulfield, the associate director of training and human resources at St. John's.

She said the university purchased Kagnito at Risk to train faculty to identify and recognize signs of distress in students and then connect them with campus resources. Caulfield said this tool gives the faculty an opportunity to practice different scenarios and responses so that in a real-life situation he or she can be comfortable with the approach they take.

The online training is about 45 minutes long. The simulation features a professor, a student, and a virtual coach that gives feedback. The avatar coach steps in if the professor says the wrong thing to the student.

St. John's University said this program isn't for professors to diagnosis students with mental health issues but to help them get the resources they need.