Courtesy Brandin Dear
Brandin Dear, who filled the newly minted position of associate dean and director of counseling, health, and wellness earlier this month, will spearhead the college’s merger of the physical and mental health of students during a multi-year effort to create a more holistic approach to students’ wellbeing.
Dear stepped into the position on Feb. 1, after the college officially announced his hiring in an email on Jan. 15. The new position was created after Emerson announced retirements of Emerson’s Counseling and Psychological Services (ECAPS) Director Elise Harrison last fall and Center for Health and Wellness (CHW) Director Jane Powers earlier this year.
“I was really intrigued by this position because it’s taking what I love and what I’ve always known, which is counseling and mental health, and then pairing it with health and wellness,” Dear said in an interview with The Beacon.
Dear said his vision for the merger of ECAPS and CHW is to create a fully integrated office that takes into consideration each student’s mental and physical health when providing them with the care they need.
“My hope is that we treat the student as a whole person across the campus,” he said. “We are all interacting with the student on these different levels, but we are not forgetting about all the intersections of who a student is in terms of their identity and in terms of what they want to do at Emerson.”
The full integration of these two departments will occur over the course of several years in a multi-stage plan. The first stage, which Dear said will begin during the fall 2021 semester, will introduce a new website that will combine the resources and services of both offices in one virtual location.
“Instead of having the student jump around office to office, it’s like we are one system,” he said. “I think that when we have this integration we are able to give you the best care and the clearest care.”
Student’s electronic medical records from each office will also eventually be integrated together, which will allow counselors from ECAPS and staff from CHW to access students’ entire medical histories at the college.
While Dear said the merger will assist in easing communications between staff members to provide students with the care they need, each student will be able to choose how much information is shared about them between staff.
“It’s not like if you came in to see someone on the health side that you are giving permission for them to have in-depth conversations with your therapist,” he said. “But there might be something on the health side that you want your therapist to know about, or that you want the health person to know about.”
ECAPS and CHW will be renamed under the umbrella of the new office, the name for which has not yet been decided.
Dear said the merger makes sense now more than ever due to the toll the pandemic has taken on students’ mental and physical health at Emerson and across the country.
“I think we are finding with COVID, this has been such an interesting time because we are all, on some level, isolated to protect our physical bodies,” he said. “We are trying to protect those the best that we can, but what we found is that it’s really impacted our mental health in a lot of ways, so these really do work together.”
As the Director of Counseling, Health, and Wellness, Dear will oversee newly appointed Associate Director of ECAPS Kyle Rundles, Associate Director of Wellness Laura Owens, and the Associate Director of Health—a position that currently stands empty following Powers’ retirement earlier this year.
Owens said she is excited to work with Dear to implement educational and preventive actions that will prioritize students’ wellness.
“It really is a big job,” she said. “This is a totally new thing that we are going to build with two different departments that have been historically separate.”
Owens, who was part of the group involved in Dear’s hiring process, said she was impressed with his positive energy and overall vision for what the merger will look like.
“We are going to have a unified leader now, which is something new,” she said. “I think we will have an advocate at an associate dean level that will bring us together and advocate for staffing.”
Rundles echoed Owens’ sentiments, saying Dear’s new position will allow ECAPS to accomplish new efforts, like implementing educational programs to teach students how to care for themselves while away at college, which was previously put on the backburner.
“I think he’s a great person to spearhead the combination of the Center for Health and Wellness and ECAPS,” Rundles said. “I think that will allow for a holistic care for our students and some preventative work that the CHW and ECAPS hasn’t really had the time or staff to dedicate to in the past, so he’s going to be leading that ship.”
Prior to coming to Emerson, Dear worked as a clinical coordinator at Harvard University’s Health Services for four-and-a-half years, and before that as a counselor and interim director at Berklee College of Music’s Counseling Services.
Along with working as a clinical coordinator, Dear held a position on Harvard’s Health Services senior leadership team and created a group specifically to provide emotional support to transgender students.
Last week, Brandin explored Emerson’s campus for the first time. He said that he will be working remotely for the majority of the spring semester but is eager to meet the students he will be working with in the future.
“I went around some of the buildings, just on the outside, and I saw folks walking around,” he said. “The energy of the college campus—I really missed that.”