Meet Max and Sam!

Together, Max Rothman and Sam Orley have helped developed the Wolverine Support Network. This student organization, launched in winter 2015 and sponsored by University of Michigan’s Counseling & Psychological Services, helps improve student mental health and well-being through weekly, peer-facilitated support groups and stress-busting events. These Weekly Groups (~6-10 students) are led by trained student facilitators and are held at 30+ locations and times on campus, as an accessible and inclusive outlet to engage honestly with peers. Today, Wolverine Support Network has grown to one of the University of Michigan’s largest student organizations, with 600+ students signed up for both the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 semesters.

To equip students with necessary facilitation skills, WSN partners on trainings with 7 different on and off-campus resources, including University Health Services, Multi-ethnic Student Affairs, SAPAC and Suicide Prevention Training. An off campus retreat is held each year to begin the training process for the student facilitators, and this training continues weekly throughout the year.

Most recently, Sam and Max have fielded interest from students and administrators at 40+ schools in this peer-led model. Together they established The Support Network to help implement, develop and coordinate peer support initiatives at high schools and colleges. The creation of the WSN Blueprint, a manual with instructions and tips on how to initiate a support network, has allowed Max and Sam to launch this model at two Universities (University of Cincinnati and Michigan State University), as well as at Sam’s own high school, Cranbrook Kingswood, in Metro Detroit. They recently presented on WSN and its impact at the NASPA Mental Health Strategies Conference and the 16th Annual Depression on College Campuses Conference.

As Members of Mental Health America’s (MHA) Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council, Sam and Max work directly with 15 other college students and collaborate with their Director of Peer Support, Advocacy and Services to author a perspective report on pressing student mental health and well-being topics, such as disability services, addiction and diversity, as well as collaborate with inspiring student leaders on other campuses involved with mental health work.

Max Rothman – University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor

Max Rothman recently graduated from the University of Michigan, where he studied Economics and Business. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and his introduction to support for mental health began following the tragic accidental death of one of his close friends in 8th grade. His school, Harvard-Westlake, provided a space for a small support group of her close friends to meet. This group was facilitated to help students cope with their emotions. At Harvard-Westlake’s high-school campus the largest student run organization on campus was a program called “Peer Support”, which followed this peer-to-peer support model. As a senior, Max was one of the four coordinators of the program. Little did he know, that this peer support model would become the catalyst for committing to a mental health advocacy role throughout college.

Upon arriving at Michigan, Max was introduced to a student organization, Wolverine Support Network (WSN), that was looking for facilitators for peer support groups. The founders of the organization heard about the success of his high-school’s Peer Support program, and were looking to implement the model at Michigan. After being a group leader in the inaugural semester, Max became the Director of Leader Development. He then assumed the role of Director of Program Development for the following two years. In these roles he helped with the training and management of the student facilitators, fundraising of over $75,000, as well as the creation of a manual to help facilitate the expansion of the WSN model to other colleges and high schools.

Max’s mental health work on campus was not limited to WSN. He was appointed to Athletes Connected, a mental health network for U of M athletes, as well as Mental Health America’s Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council. Max was also a student government representative and ultimately co-chaired the Central Student Government Mental Health Task Force. Max brought the knowledge he had gained from his relationships with student athletes and mental-health professionals to the task force, which analyzed three campus wide surveys. A comprehensive report was created with recommendations to improve the classroom climate and mental health resources available on campus. These recommendations included a personal project of Max’s –the creation of a well-being tab on Michigan’s online homework and resource platform called “Canvas”.

While WSN and the MHTF both addressed the entire university’s needs, Max also brought some focus to unique issues within male Greek life. As a sophomore, he shared his struggles with body image and mental health with his chapter and brothers, which led to the creation of a mental health chair position to provide his fraternity brothers with an outlet to speak about their own struggles. After recognizing the positive impact it had on the chapter, he helped establish this position in all active fraternities belonging to the Interfraternity Council Chapters (IFC) during his time on the IFC Executive Board.

In his final year on campus, his collegiate mental health awareness efforts culminated with his leading role in planning a week-long mental health awareness and advocacy event called “Who Can Relate?”, which concluded with a concert performance by Grammy-nominated artist, Logic.

Max is extremely grateful for the opportunities he had at Michigan and for all of the support that the University provided to address mental health issues on campus. He will continue this work through the creation of a non-profit, The Support Network, that seeks to expand the peer-support model at schools across the country. Max knows that the de-stigmatization of mental health is an issue that will require work long into the future and he looks forward to helping in that effort.

Samuel Orley – University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor

Sam Orley graduated this April with a BBA at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, with emphases in Strategy and Finance, a Minor in Sustainability, and an eagerness to build infrastructure that helps communities thrive. Years before stepping foot on campus, Sam was unfortunately introduced to mental illness and its stigma through his older brother’s experience while at the University of Michigan. In August 2013, Sam’s role model, mentor and older brother, George, ended his life before entering his Junior year. After a full year of overwhelming confusion and sorrow, Sam entered Ann Arbor, determined to shift the culture and conversation around mental health and well-being.

He realized the potent influence of peers and sought to empower those around him to create a mental health-focused community and Weekly (support) Groups that were accessible and inclusive for all students. As an organizing Member, Weekly Group facilitator and most recently Executive Director of Wolverine Support Network (WSN), Sam seeks to alleviate the social stigmas, financial burdens and timing inconveniences often associated with topics related to mental health, well-being and help-seeking for students across the country. Specifically, Sam has overseen Wolverine Support Network’s student Leader training, marketing and outreach to more than double membership, fundraising of over $75,000, impact analysis and expansion processes with his Director Team.

Outside of Wolverine Support Network, Sam has contributed to reducing mental health prejudice by helping arrange and speaking at various on-campus events. He was a panelist for the premier of S:Word, a film about suicide prevention and awareness, a keynote speaker at Head Talks, a Ted Talk-style event at the Ross School of Business focusing on mindfulness and positive psychology, as well as the organizer of “A Night for Mental Wellness”, a self-care fundraiser featuring a comedian and the University’s Professor of the Year. These 200+ attendee events engaged the University of Michigan student body and the surrounding community to reimagine and promote approaches to mental well-being and illness in personal relationships, organizations and corporations.

As Sam completes his time at Michigan, he constantly thinks about his brother’s life and legacy. He is motivated to inspire high-quality connection and unleash compassion, genuine curiosity and courage. He believes that as the laws of gravity are suspended in outer space, restrictive societal norms are transcended in WSN Weekly Group. They are replaced with empathy, vulnerability and shared acts of human expression. Instead of pre-destined conversations and stale greetings, an entirely new and refreshing norm is established. He wishes more than anything his brother could experience this space.

For his work at the University of Michigan and beyond, Sam was awarded the Depression Center’s 2018 Student Mental Health Advocate Award.

We would like to recognize and congratulate this year’s impressive finalists:

  • Mackenzie Drazan, Duke University
  • Victoria Garrick, University of Southern California

Thank you to our distinguished panel of judges:

  • Casey Acierno – Senior Manager, Social Impact at Spotify
  • Matt Argame – 2017 JED Student Voice of Mental Health Award Honoree
  • Dr. Joseph Behen – Executive Director of Counseling, Health and Disability Services School at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Kerri Smith Nickerson – Grantee and State Initiatives Manager at The Suicide Prevention Resource Center/Education Development Center, Inc.
  • Carol Ullman – Founder, Jerry Greenspan Student Voice of Mental Health Award

Learn more about the award and view previous honorees.