New Vice President for Student Health and Wellness Reflects on Initiatives


Amen Koutowogbe

Sherrá Watkins, the associate vice president for student health & wellness, poses in front of Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, on Nov. 1, 2022. (Photo by Amen Koutowogbe | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Allison Stuart, News Writer


In early October, Dr. Sherrá Watkins began her role as the first associate vice president for student health and wellness. This role was created within the last few years and Watkins will be the first educator to fill the role.

In describing how she views health and wellness, Watkins said, “It is this very dynamic concept about this change process of being able to make decisions towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Becoming your most authentic self and being able to navigate what that looks and sounds like, in your own way.”

In her new role, she will emphasize the importance of setting good boundaries and being more in tune with one’s mental state and emotional levels. The Nine Dimensions of Wellness — physical, emotional, creative, environmental, financial, occupational, intellectual, social and spiritual — play a role in her initiative.

When it came to choosing to relocate to Utah, Watkins was looking to be challenged and to take on a new position that would cause her to improve. Another deciding factor was her child, who would benefit from the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic at the U.

Watkins also says her faith as a Christian helped her to make the decision to accept the position.

“I’m ministering to the students and the campus community that I serve,” she said. “And I felt that was a way that God was showing me that there’s a way that he was giving something back to me in this newfound skill that I’m still gonna be learning for myself.”

In this new position, Watkins aims to serve as a leader for all students who come to her.

“I have to make sure our services and programs are equitable for all of our students, regardless of their strengths, their picture, their gender, everything,” she said. 

Watkins is drawing her goals from the Student Affairs Strategy, which has been led by Vice President of Student Affairs Lori McDonald. The position came into view after the pandemic revealed the mental health struggles of college students.

In a press release, McDonald said, “Student health and wellness has gained increasing attention over the past few years as the pandemic shined a spotlight on the challenges many of our students face.”

Another one of Watkins’ goals is to equip students with the tools they need to be successful emerging adults and college students. An example she gave was making a doctor’s appointment. Many students have never had to make one on their own, and she wants to make sure that students can help themselves and be equipped for what’s to come. 

Kenzie Valenteen, a third-year student at the U studying journalism, said, “I think that it is good to have a fresh face and mindset to cover this operation on campus.” 

She added, “I can see that she has the experience in all those different fields and can use those skills to help students. It is a plus to have a mentorship, someone to look up to and show the ropes.”

Watkins is a firm believer in mentorship for everyone, in any major or concentration. Her mentor as a student encouraged her to finish strong and not quit as a first-generation college student.

“I was the youngest person in the doctoral program and the only person of color,” Watkins said. “I was 25 years old, doing a Ph.D. and a Master’s. And everyone told me that I was crazy, [my mentor] told me you are supposed to be here and you have a gift.” 

She said she plans on using her love for mentoring people to care for and help the students on campus.

Watkins has multiple degrees from East Carolina University. These include a Doctor of Philosophy in rehabilitation counseling & administration, a Master of Science in clinical counseling & substance abuse counseling, a Master of Arts in in health education and a Bachelor of Science in school health education.

She prides herself on working with people of different abilities, such as diseases that do not present themselves in a typical manner like hemophilia, AIDS and sickle cell disease.

Watkins’ research and most recent work led her out of the United States to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine where she worked overseeing the Counseling Center there. She also taught as an assistant professor in the Behavioral Sciences Department there.


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