Published: April 30, 2019

Sona Dimidjian, Daniel Conroy, Patricia Crown and Phil DiStefano

Sona Dimidjian, Daniel Conroy, Patricia Crown and Chancellor Phil DiStefano (from left to right).

The University of Colorado Boulder is establishing a new research institute committed to building a world in which health and wellness are valued, promoted and protected for all children and youth.

The Renée Crown Wellness Institute takes the approach of research-practice partnerships, in which researchers, families, teachers, young people and community members work together as equal partners. Early studies build on a foundation of collaboration with the Boulder Valley and Roaring Fork school districts, community members and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education.

Patricia and Renee Crown

Patricia (left) and Renée Crown (right).

“Mental health and wellness are increasingly critical topics in K-12 classrooms and college campuses across the country,” said CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano. “It’s imperative that we collectively create solutions to promote wellness. The Renée Crown Wellness Institute will conduct groundbreaking research relevant to wellness, starting as early as possible in development and continuing through college.”

Colorado philanthropist Dr. Patricia Crown, PhD, has established a transformative endowment for the institute to underscore the importance of an enduring commitment to Colorado communities and the value of research in developing solutions to challenges facing children, youth, families and schools. Crown and her family honor their mother Renée’s lifelong dedication to serving others through the naming of the institute. Patricia Crown said she wanted to make an impact on the children of Colorado given her lifelong connection to the state.

“I want all children and young people to know three things,” said Crown. “I’m okay, I’m not alone, and I can access the help I need.”

Institute advisory board member and founder of the CU Collegiate Recovery Center Daniel Conroy noted, “We are completely under-resourced in every aspect of mental health service in Colorado, and we simply cannot afford to maintain the status quo. This institute is how you move the needle.”

Colorado has one of the highest rates of prevalence of mental health problems and the poorest access to mental health care in the country.

“We cannot address the challenges we face in isolation,” said Sona Dimidjian, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and institute director. “The Renée Crown Wellness Institute will be an interdisciplinary home for scientists, scholars and practitioners from diverse disciplines and across sectors. By working across traditional boundaries on our campus and with community partners, we can co-create and study programs to help children, young people, families and educators thrive throughout their lives. These partnerships improve the quality of our science and scholarship and expand the impact of our collective work.”

Research programs in the institute will focus on the wellness of children and youth and the adults who support them. Key areas of interest include the study of mindfulness, compassion, belonging, the voice of young people, families, teachers, schools and communities.

Kathy Schultz, Ben Kirshner, Sona Dimidjian, Erik Willcutt and Yuko Munakata

Kathy Schultz, Ben Kirshner, Sona Dimidjian, Erik Willcutt and Yuko Munakata (from left to right).

The five founding faculty members of the institute include: Professors Sona Dimidjian, Erik Willcutt and Yuko Munakata from the College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor Ben Kirshner and Dean Kathy Schultz from the School of Education. The institute aims to expand faculty engagement across disciplines on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, and to strengthen connections with other centers and campuses across the state.

Dimidjian said she is excited about the ways in which the participatory research of the institute will challenge assumptions about expertise and access to knowledge. Young people, including CU Boulder students, will bring their own expertise as members of wellness research teams, as will community partners. The institute will also build upon existing partnerships with El Centro AMISTAD in Boulder County and Valley Settlement in the Roaring Fork region. Research programs in the institute will address disparities in mental health, wellness and education associated with gender, race, ethnicity, geography and income.

“In the framework that guides the institute, we all work together as learners and experts,” said Dimidjian. “We are connected by a core commitment to creating a better world today and for future generations through the synergy of excellence in research and engaged communities. That is the heart of our work.”

The University of Colorado Foundation also contributed toward the institute’s health and wellness programs, research, infrastructure and technological support.

A community celebration for the Renée Crown Wellness Institute is planned for the fall. The institute will be located at 1135 Broadway in Boulder when renovations to the building are complete. You can visit the institute’s website to share your ideas and questions and stay connected at