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Faculty and Staff

Creating Space for Healing

Man with glasses in blue shirt smiling

In another life, Luke Strawn would have become a video game designer.

“That was the goal when I played my Super Nintendo at 6.” 

Despite his middle school friends insisting he was a good listener, Strawn was determined to pursue game design as a career.

But after witnessing a friend’s traumatic loss in April 2009, Strawn’s focus shifted from designing video games to understanding how to hold space for those who struggle with grief.   

“I found beauty in the stories my friend shared and the healing that was possible. Since then, I have experienced my fair share of tragedy and have held the space for clients to share and process theirs.”  

Strawn earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Central Florida. He then earned his master’s degree in counselor education at North Carolina State University and completed his practicum and internship with the university’s Counseling Center. Strawn is now a licensed mental health counselor.

He has worked at NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) since the fall of 2021. Then he transitioned from a temporary to a full-time embedded counselor, serving students in CALS and the College of Sciences (COS). 

Creating Diverse Spaces for Healing

CALS is home to a distinct demographic of students, many from rural backgrounds with specific challenges. Additionally, CALS serves students with marginalized identities who need support while working in fields that tend to be predominantly white.

“I think it’s important that we respond proactively to students and ensure they have a space to talk. Our CALS students have unique challenges that those outside the program might have trouble empathizing with.”

Strawn has learned to allow people to share their thoughts and advocate for their needs. “These students have lived experiences that are very different than my own. I’ve learned to create the space to learn from them and to learn what they need rather than imposing myself on them.” 

Through Strawn’s work and the college’s wellness initiatives, students of varied identities, cultural backgrounds and areas of study are finding safe spaces to express their mental and emotional health needs. 

How Faculty and Staff Can Support Students’ Mental Health

Strawn encourages faculty and staff to approach students with care and compassion.

“Showing that you want to have a conversation means so much. It assures students that expressing their concerns and challenges is okay.”

Faculty and staff can access resources on the Counseling Center website that list ways to recognize the signs of a distressed student, create a supportive environment and set the stage for that support. 

Additionally, they can complete a referral form through NC State CARES if they believe a student needs assistance. The referral routes information to personnel with touchpoints across the university to connect students to Counseling Center prevention services.

“Professors and staff want more done in mental health,” says Strawn. “They want to see more action taken and to know that students are being taken care of.”

The Ag and Sciences Wellness Program 

CALS and COS have partnered to create the Ag and Sciences Wellness Program to help support students’ mental health needs.

The program connects students with mental health resources with more streamlined accessibility, making it easier for students to connect with a counselor.

Strawn was directly involved in developing the Ag and Sciences Wellness Program, which began while working with Coleman Simpson, student services specialist and scholarship coordinator, in helping support CALS students. Simpson led the effort to secure the initial grant funding to offer counseling services while he was a graduate student. The grant enabled Strawn to move into his current role.

Strawn and Simpson teamed with professor Alun Lloyd and Jamila Simpson, assistant dean for inclusive excellence, to develop a collaborative support system serving CALS and COS clients by conducting drop-in sessions, running workshops and hosting events. 

Collaborators gave the effort its formal name as services expanded and Strawn shifted into an embedded role. Other key players included Assistant Dean Rhonda Sutton, who previously served as the interim director of student success; Colleen Oliver of the Inclusive Excellence Initiative; and the Counseling Center’s Executive Director Monica Osburn

As the Ag and Sciences Wellness program grows, other NC State colleges are starting similar mental health initiatives.

“Our administration welcomes the program and wants to prioritize it for the students,”  says Strawn. “CALS is setting the trend, and people are receptive to the plan.” 

Bringing Light to Others

Strawn continues to draw motivation from his greatest inspiration — his mother.

“She demonstrated how to show love and bring light into the world. She modeled what love looks like and how to support and create a space for others.”

The lessons he learned from his mother continue to inform how he supports his clients through their healing journeys. 

“My mother was an incredibly strong-willed individual who overcame many odds to provide for the people she loves,” he says. 

Likewise, Strawn is helping CALS students overcome challenges and forge a path of resilience.

“I have found so much warmth in the light of persistence that my clients have shown. I’m so grateful that I get to be present in their anger, their distress, their healing and their growth. It’s a beautiful space, and I’m grateful this is my permanent work.”