When she started her Management 101 course last fall, Victoria Loffredo '22 promised herself she wouldn't bite off more than she could chew.
She'd heard the experiential course — in which teams of students form real companies to earn profits that they reinvest in a service project — was an all-in sort of experience. And with a double major in education and psychology, a seat on Bucknell Student Government and membership in a sorority, Loffredo was well aware of her tendency to overcommit.
But when she saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of her fellow students by way of a mental health awareness campaign, the sophomore from Wayne, N.J., couldn't help but dive in.
"I saw how much of a hunger there was to bring something to campus to discuss mental health awareness," she says. "I got wrapped up in it."
After advocating for her group to choose the American Mental Wellness Association — an awareness organization based 40 minutes away in Marysville, Pa. — as its partner charity, Loffredo volunteered to be the company's vice president of service. And she hasn't untangled herself from the project she got wrapped up in. This semester, after the course ended, she and her classmates launched the association's first-ever student chapter, with Loffredo as its president.
It might be one more commitment in her already packed schedule, but Loffredo says it's one she's honored to take on. "We want to show people that we are there we are talking about mental health and we are there for them, because everyone's touched by it," she says.
An Uncharted Course
Bucknell's innovative Management 101 course teaches students to run a business by starting their own. Loffredo's company sold T-shirts promoting positivity, but the heart of the team's experience was not in selling shirts but in the service project that benefited from their profits.
When they started out last fall, there was little playbook for Loffredo and her company to follow. In the management lessons that preceded the start of the project, Professor Neil Boyd, management, taught Loffredo's class the importance of measuring success, which presented an immediate challenge to her group.
"We were very different in that we were an awareness project," she says. "With mental health, it's hard to measure success because it's personal for everyone. If someone has a cold you can tell, so how can I tell that someone has a mental health challenge?"
The group decided to organize events where they could measure their success while also teaching their peers important lessons, like how to recognize when a friend might be struggling. Last semester, they hosted an information station at a community event in downtown Lewisburg, and passed out more than 500 "You Matter" cards and created a "positivity chain" in Bertrand Library during Bucknell's Wellness Week.
Their goal in all of it, says company CEO Sean Bartholomew '22, was to "create an environment where people are comfortable talking about these topics, because the more you talk about it the better you become at detecting it."
"It's about the health and wellbeing of our peers, our community," adds Bartholomew, a dual computer science & engineering and management for engineers major from Pittsburgh.
The group's final service project for the class — a kickball tournament fundraiser — presented its biggest hurdle, especially when a snafu with the University's events management system nearly left the company without a venue hours before they were set to kick off. Loffredo and her classmates worked frantically to straighten out the issue hours before participants would start arriving, and minutes before a speaker the group invited took the stage Loffredo was still running.
But as the event began, Loffredo knew it had all been worthwhile.
"I handed the microphone over to the speaker, and it was the first time I wasn't doing anything, and I thought, 'Wow, every single person is listening,' " Loffredo recalls. "Not one person was on their phone."
Keeping Up Momentum
Loffredo knew at that moment that she had to keep the momentum going after her course ended. She contacted the Bucknell Student Government about starting a club and found support for the idea (as well as funding — any group of students can apply to start their own club at Bucknell if one doesn't already exist). When she put out a call for an initial interest meeting, she was surprised to find more than 70 students responded.
Since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Loffredo and her classmates to return home and Bucknell to transition to remote teaching for the rest of the spring semester, the club has taken on greater relevance than ever.
"With all of us being stuck at home with plenty of time to think and reflect, we can lead ourselves down rabbit holes, and we don't have the all means to distract ourselves or focus on our wellbeing that we do normally," Loffredo says. "There are many different things that create mental health challenges or further pre-existing challenges at this time, and to make matters worse, there are not as many wellness opportunities, such as de-stressing with friends."
To fill the gap, club members have begun reaching out to their peers on the club's Instagram account, @amwabucknell, with mental health and wellness tips and resources, such as apps focused on mindfulness and meditation and tips for recognizing anxiety. The group also plans to coordinate in-person or virtual events with Bucknell's Counseling & Student Development Center next fall.
Loffredo continues to have a lot on her plate, but she's happy to make time for the organization she knows is critically important. Her teammates, too, are continuing to pitch in, and they couldn't be prouder of what they accomplished together.
"Our professors always tell us to design our processes and operation sustainably, so that you could operate past the semester, but most people don't think about that in terms of the service project's longevity," Bartholomew, says. "We really created something that could go on much further."