Video: Impact of COVID-19 on Penn State Undergraduate Students

Stephanie Lanza and Courtney Whetzel presenting on Zoom
PRC Director Stephanie Lanza and PRC Project Manager Courtney Whetzel discussed results of the Penn State CORE surveys on May 28 to College of Health and Human Development alumnia via Zoom

Watch the video here.  

In a recent edition of the College of Health and Human Development “HHD on Location” webinar series, Stephanie Lanza, director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center (PRC) and PRC Project Manager Courtney Whetzel shared the results of the Penn State CORE (COllege Relationships and Experiences) research project, and answered questions from participants concerned about the safety and wellbeing of college students during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Lanza addressed the urgency for research and programs supporting students during this time, noting that the current pandemic could exacerbate substance use problems “in our youth all over the country, and potentially, Penn State students as well.”  

In November 2019, the Penn State CORE research team surveyed Penn State undergraduates at nine Penn State campuses about the emotional, environmental and social factors that may relate to their health and behavior. The study focused on substance use behaviors, mental health, feelings of belonging, perceived experiences of discrimination, and food insecurity. More than 4,300 students participated in this first survey. Of these participants, 1,004 students responded to the second survey in May 2020, during the pandemic.  

The November 2019 and May 2020 surveys included questions about:

  • substance use,
  • mental health,
  • food insecurity, and
  • discrimination.

The May 2020 survey also included questions about:

  • housing insecurity,
  • barriers faced in remote learning,
  • perceived COVID-19 risk,
  • adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures,
  • coping strategies, and
  • COVID-19 vaccination likelihood

Whetzel shared a summary of findings from the November 2019 survey and preliminary findings from the May 2020 survey. She also mentioned resources available to students, such as psychological counseling through Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Student Affairs Emergency Fund. Lanza added that further analysis of how students’ responses changed between the two waves of data collection will shed light on how the pandemic affected participants.  

A webinar attendee asked the researchers which of their research findings surprised them most. Lanza replied that, “Students, by and large, do not feel that the policies and procedures that have been put on us by our state… were too strict. In fact, many thought that the policies are too lenient… It is a false assumption that our students don’t want to do their part.”  

At the webinar’s conclusion, Lanza touched upon a related PRC research project, Penn State SELF (Student Engagement, Learning and Flourishing). This project, led by Lanza and PRC Associate Director Greg Fosco, aims to uncover the biobehavioral underpinnings of health behaviors such as the ones shared above. The data to be collected include 21 daily assessments of experiences, emotions, and behavior as well as DNA, and will serve as a resource for Penn State researchers studying young adult flourishing and provide the University with information that could enhance student experiences.

People Mentioned in this Article

Stephanie Lanza Courtney Whetzel