Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Health Education and Promotion


Lynne Orr


This case study responded to a problem reported by freshman on evaluations from a university experience course. The students identified mental health as a significant barrier to succeeding academically, and the most critical area of students’ need. The rationale for this study was to develop policy recommendations based on the content of the interviews that provide new insights and information to improve student experiences, offer adequate support and relief, and more effectively meet student needs. The first research question explored the perceptions of first-year students enrolled in a freshmen experience course at a local 4-year college regarding their learning about emotional wellbeing. The second research question investigated the preferences of first-year students enrolled in a freshmen experience course at a local 4-year college regarding instructional strategies while learning about emotional wellbeing. The framework for this study included Debellis’s and Goldin’s theory that students’ beliefs on the subject matter in this study, mental health education, influences their learning. Data were collected from 9 student participants using semistructured interviews, a writing prompt, an observation checklist, and a research journal. The thematic analysis resulted in 5 themes: (a) significant and meaningful experiences; (b) most relevant course topics, activities, skills, and tools; (c) student recommendations and preferences for future courses; (d) student perceptions of the classroom environment, teacher, and student-teacher relationship; and (e) overall student perceptions, thoughts, initial attitude, emotions, and expectations of the course. Key findings led to a white paper to facilitate empathetic understanding and the development of improved teaching practices. The study can contribute to positive social change by refining student mental health learning and by enhancing the lives of college students through improving teaching, learning, and faculty training, and educating the college community.