Student Affairs

Clemson, MUSC team up to deliver virtual mental health symposium


Lesslie Pekarek
Lesslie Pekarek, director of medical services at Clemson, helped lead nearly 100 professionals from across the country in a mental health symposium in May 2023.
Download image

Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hosted their first annual Collegiate Mental Health Symposium on May 15. Presented by Precision Genetics, this virtual event brought together well-being leaders and mental health professionals from across the nation to discuss the impact of the mental health crisis on college campuses.

The nearly 100 attendees represented a wide range of professionals in higher education: health center directors, medical directors, physicians, counseling center directors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, public health professionals, health educators, well-being officers and much more.

Following a welcome from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Chris Miller, the symposium hosts were introduced – three individuals dedicated to student health and well-being at Clemson:

  • Lesslie Pekarek, M.D. – Director of Medical Services, Student Health Services, Clemson
  • Birma Gainor, Ph.D. – Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Health Services, Clemson
  • Christopher Pelic, M.D. – Health and Wellness Chief and Tenured Professor of Psychiatry, MUSC; Staff Psychiatrist, Student Health Services, Clemson

During the sessions, attendees engaged in conversations surrounding best practices and effective solutions on mitigating mental health concerns on college campuses. Results from a presurvey guided the symposium topics, which included best practices for high-risk patients, scope of practice and legal challenges, and varying approaches to crisis management.

A keynote address was delivered by Jennifer Jones, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and clinical researcher at MUSC. Jones spoke on clinical studies and scientific advancements in psychedelic use in psychiatric conditions, particularly highlighting the clinical science of the compounds psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine.

The symposium hosts and diverse group of individuals in attendance fostered an atmosphere conducive to knowledge-sharing and support, truly uniting all in the effort to help students thrive in college and beyond. The care and concern shared by the group for college student mental health and well-being was evident.

“The virtual Collegiate Mental Health Symposium was an excellent example of the need for consistent, robust discussion about issues of concern regarding college mental health,” said Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Birma Gainor. “The variety of attendees, from role to location, only reinforced how important fostering conversation and knowledge sharing can be for campuses. Working together has never felt so imperative.”

Similar sentiments were shared by event attendees.

“It was affirming to be in a space with colleagues who are experiencing similar struggles,” said Marguerite O’Brien, director of LiveWell at Coastal Carolina University. “The presenters offered interesting data and actionable ideas. Attending the symposium has given me some good ideas and a boost as we move into summer planning and await the arrival of our incoming students.”