Last week, I drove back from San Francisco (actually, a suburb thereof that almost no one will have heard of) to finish off my summer. After spending 7 hours in a car to get here after 1 am, I had to wake up the next morning to go to UCC training for the first of 3 all-day sessions.
The UCC program is one of the more fantastic parts of the House system support network (handily shortened to "safety net" – I’ll be talking more about that in a later blog post) here at Caltech. UCC stands for "UpperClass Counselor", and that’s exactly what a UCC is – an upperclassman who is willing to serve as a counselor for issues of various kinds in the houses. Each House runs its own UCC program differently, so while the training for all UCCs is the same, the exact implementation of it and the arrangement of the UCCs in each house is slightly different. For example, in Ricketts there is one UCC in each hallway responsible for the members of that hallway, although they are open to help others in the Hovse. Other houses assign groups to each UCC, or have other ways of integrating the UCCs into the house.
UCC training this year was more intensive and comprehensive than it has been in the past, which was very good from a knowledge perspective. We (10 UCCs per house = 80 people) spent the first day learning leadership skills, conflict resolution strategies, autism spectrum disorders, and meeting other people involved with the support network at Caltech – RAs, people from the counseling center, and RLCs (Residential Life Coordinators – basically they’re full-time RAs who live in the houses). The next two days were really the meat and potatoes of being a UCC – Mental Health First Aid training.
Mental Health First Aid is a 12 hour certification course (like regular First Aid or CPR) training people how to deal with a broad array of mental health issues. We’re not trained to diagnose or completely treat problems – only to intervene and provide early intervention help to help avoid crises or manage them until professional help can be secured. As I said, this is one of the more important parts of being a UCC. UCCs often are assigned incoming freshmen as part of a "UCC group". Adjusting to college life anywhere can be hard, and especially at Caltech where the workload and academic pressure can be quite high. We, as UCCs, are here to help make that adjustment easy.
I wanted to be a UCC to get a broader background to help my friends – whether they are fellow upperclassmen dealing with any issue from relationships to academic stress or freshmen trying to adjust to life at Caltech and in the Hovse. Caltech can be tough, but so can being a young adult away from home. Things come up, and I never want to see my friends going through any difficulty alone.
Oh, and because it’s a real certification course, we have to learn mnemonics to help us remember procedures. The big one in mental first aid is ALGEE (which stands for something really long and boring), and we remember it with the help of ALGEE the koala!