Tuesday, July 27, 2021

In collaboration with the University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry, alumnus Lucas Klein is working to support student mental health.

Klein grew up in Osage, Iowa, a rural town about two and a half hours north of Iowa City. After attending community college, he transferred to the University of Iowa where he worked in facilities management in the Carver College of Medicine to help put himself through school.

He was inspired to be a teacher by previous teachers, coaches, and school administrators that were his role models.

“I still look up to a lot of them. I want to leave a similar impact on as many lives as I can,” says Klein. “Working with others has been really rewarding for me. Helping others reach their goals and create new opportunities for themselves is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Klein graduated from the University of Iowa in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social studies education and history and certification in interscholastic activities and athletic administration.

“As a student, social studies classes were always the easiest for me to engage in. When applying to the College of Education I didn’t even have to think about it,” says Klein. “Teaching social studies can be a lot of fun. You can be really creative when planning to teach such a wide range of subjects.”

Klein began working as a research assistant with Dr. Virginia Willour in the Department of Psychiatry and was initially tasked to get the lab back up and running after it was mostly remote during the pandemic. Willour's  research focuses on identifying genetic risk factors that contribute to suicidal behavior. They are also collaborating with Dr. Eric Monson, chief resident in psychiatry at the University of Utah and former College of Medicine Graduate.

Due to his training as a social studies teacher, Willour also gave him a project to find a way to explain their research to a younger audience. The project has since evolved into a larger initiative for parents and teachers, with Klein developing evidence-based teaching materials that provide information on common mental health issues in young people.

“Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are frequent in young students. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to serious consequences. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-19,” says Klein. “Showing students how to access the resources available to them could save lives. We want students to know what to do if they need help or if they are worried about a friend.

Klein says his work in the lab will inform his work as an educator.

“I’ve really learned the importance of providing a safe learning environment for students. We don’t always know what our students are going through. Mental health can affect everyone. I’m hoping this experience prepares me to help others in need.”

Klein and Willour will also collaborate with the new Iowa Center for School Mental Health which is housed in the College of Education.