Georgetown, Virginia Tech Adopt UVA Initiative That Reduces Depression, Loneliness

September 25, 2023 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

A wildly successful University of Virginia program, shown to reduce depression among new college students, is spreading in the commonwealth and to Washington, D.C.

Hoos Connected, founded in 2018 by teen psychology expert and the Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology Joseph Allen, is being piloted at Georgetown University and Virginia Tech this semester.

The program, known outside UVA as The Connection Project, is deceptively simple. Small groups of new college students - first-year, second-year or transfer - meet weekly in a one-credit class to talk though similarities and differences, creating deep connections with others. The groups are facilitated by upperclassmen trained in Allen’s Adolescence Research Lab in UVA’s Department of Psychology.

The program has grown nearly 800% since the first 54 students took part in the first class in spring of 2019. This semester, 475 students are enrolled; to date, more than 2,500 students have benefited from Hoos Connected. It was featured in the New York Times last year.

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Allen says its expansion to other schools could not come at a better time.

“We’ve recognized that young people are increasingly suffering and feeling isolated and lonely and depressed and anxious at rates that are really unprecedented, and we’ve developed this program to address that,” he said. “We really feel like it’s got the potential to help a lot more young people than just UVA students.”

“From the other schools’ perspectives,” he continued, “they are facing the same deluge of stressed young people that UVA and schools all across the country are facing. This is, by our understanding, one of the only programs of its type that has documented real effectiveness in reducing levels of depression and making students feel more connected.”

Allen said expanding the program to Virginia Tech and Georgetown goes hand-in-hand with UVA President Jim Ryan’s “Great and Good” plan to be helpful to the state and larger society.

Joseph Allen Portrait

Joseph Allen is an expert on teen psychology. Since founding Hoos Connected five years ago, student participation has grown by nearly 800%. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Andrea Bonior, a teaching professor and licensed clinical psychologist at Georgetown, is training 10 upperclassmen to become facilitators in the spring when the school will enroll its first class. She said she’s excited to help bring the program to her school. “It’s so meaningful and I think we just assume connections happen automatically, and it’s very clear from the research that they don’t.”

Colleen Driscoll, Virginia Tech’s assistant director of mental health initiatives, just launched a small pilot program with a mix of graduate and undergraduate students. The goal is to host four groups in the spring: two for students in the College of Engineering, which is the university’s largest school; one for graduate students; and one for international students.

“Everyone I’ve talked with about this has been really impressed with how great it has grown at UVA,” Driscoll said. “That would be our goal. To be able to grow it to enroll as many interested students as possible.”

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Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications