By Published: Sept. 29, 2020

‘We need to spend more time on better understanding and tracing mental wellness,’ says CU Boulder’s June Gruber

If you are a first-year CU Boulder student, June Gruber has a few questions about your mental health. 

Gruber, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, recently launched a survey of first-year students with the aim of better understanding how students are weathering the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19. 

The study is being done in collaboration with the Arts & Sciences Student Wellness Task Force, which emphasizes emotional and mental health of students.

June Gruber

June Gruber

“We want to hear their experiences. We want them to tell us how they're feeling so that we can have a better pulse on the mental health of students on campus,” said Gruber, who is also part of the Arts & Sciences Student Wellness Task Force. Challenges faced by new students are nearly unprecedented, she noted. “Their very first encounter with college is looking like nothing before.”

Participation is voluntary. To join the study, first-year students who are between the ages of 18 and 25 and who are fluent in English may send an email to with the subject line “EMERGE 2020 COVID-19 Study.” 

Gruber’s lab will respond with a Qualtrics survey link to fill out at the students’ convenience. Completing the survey should take about 30 minutes. All participants will be entered to win a $100 Amazon gift card, she said.

Many officials and offices have been tracking and tracing viral infection, she said, adding: “I think we need to spend more time on better understanding and tracing mental wellness and how that is experienced by individual students, but also collectively, propagating through their peer communities.”

Gruber, who directs the Positive Emotion and Psychopathology Laboratory, focuses much of her research on how positive emotions can go awry and become maladaptive. She appears in a TEDx talk on the “dark side of happiness” and has recently led a field wide paper on a call to action to address mental health during the pandemic.

Eric Stade, a math professor who co-chairs the task force, noted that mental health challenges during the pandemic have become increasingly acute. Stade directs the First Year Academic Experience in the College of Arts and Sciences, and because he has an office in Sewall Hall and interacts with many first-year students, “I get to see a lot of their challenges, and I get to talk to them about a lot of their challenges.”

Both as director of FYAE and as co-chair of the wellness task force, Stade said he was excited to learn about Gruber’s research project. 

We want them to tell us how they're feeling so that we can have a better pulse on the mental health of students on campus."

“It’s very student-centered. We’re not just studying them. We’re getting them some agency, hopefully some ability to have control over their own experiences,” he said, adding:

“I think everybody—students and faculty and staff—we're all feeling a little bit like control of our lives is slipping away because of COVID and everything else. And we're hopeful that this project can address that, at least to an extent.”

Erin Cunningham, director of employee engagement at the College of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the Student Wellness Task Force, said that the task force “strongly resonated with” Gruber’s survey project and has offered its support.

The task force is deeply committed to student wellness and can offer a range of tactical, research and professional expertise, Cunningham commented, adding: The first aim is to identify how to make a significant impact and then get to work to help support a holistic culture of wellness and compassion at the college and the university.

To the students, Gruber added: “We care about you. We want to understand you, and we want you to be involved in this citizen-science approach to gather information.”

For more information, see the Gruber research group page; to learn how to support the work, see that details here