The end of the semester is always a hectic time at MTSU, and it’s no different at Walker Library. A building that sees the equivalent of the student body walk through its doors every week will sometimes see its numbers double during those final few weeks, but on this warm and pleasant April evening, some of that lively activity is coming from the Walker Library staff as they prepare for the popular Stress-Free Zone on the first floor.
Clay Trainum, who serves as the library’s marketing and communications coordinator, is in his usual late-day rush, making sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before making an announcement to the building. This event marks the culmination of his sixth school year working for the library. Trainum’s duties include running many library events over the course of each semester, and the Stress-Free Zone event has quickly become the biggest.
While a lot of events at the library may have multiple components, the Stress-Free Zone adds in event partners, a food menu, and a guest count that regularly exceeds 400 students, making it easily the best-attended event every semester.
“When we did the first one, I had no idea what to expect,” Trainum admits. “We’ve had activities over the years that have attracted maybe a hundred or two, but that first time we did this, we got everything set up, and then the students just kept coming. The line floored me, and I couldn’t believe that we ran out of literally everything we had for them. It was a truly eye-opening experience.”
While that first event may have surprised Trainum, there’s one individual who knew it would be successful from the start: Walker Library Dean Kathleen Schmand.
Schmand organized a similar event for her previous institution and saw it grow with each passing semester. When she started at MTSU in 2021, it was one of the first ideas she proposed to Trainum.
“I didn’t start our Stress-Free Zone at Northern Arizona. It began relatively slowly, and then I took it over in 2015,” Schmand said. “We wanted to encourage students to take a break during the most stressful time of the semester, and they truly appreciated all the support.
“When I arrived here at MTSU, it was only natural to bring the same type of event to Walker Library. Every student needs a little bit of support during that last stretch at the end of the semester.”
The Stress-Free Zone is a multifaceted event, but its purpose is clear from its name. The goal is for MTSU’s library to provide a brief reprieve from the pressure and anxiety that come with the start of finals. The first collaborator Trainum sought out for the event was Music City Pet Partners, which organizes therapy dog teams.
Four teams participated at the most recent event, and the star of the show was once again Caity, a corgi from Franklin (photo on cover). She and her handler, Geralda Aubry, are the only tandem that has been a part of every de-stress event at the library.
Students’ faces light up the minute they see us bring the dogs into the building.
“Caity is a rock star!” Schmand said. “I love my cat, don’t get me wrong, but I am a dog person. Students’ faces light up the minute they see us bring the dogs into the building, and Caity has become such a regular that the students now know her by name. It makes me so happy to see the connections between the pups and the students, and a few minutes with one of the therapy dogs is one of the very best ways that we have to help students de-stress.”
“Caity has developed a bit of a cult following here,” Trainum added. “She was the last dog in the building at this most recent event, and a stream of students followed her as she and Geralda got set up.”
Health Help and Free Food
With the therapy dogs lined up, Trainum happened upon a successful partnership with the Raider Health Corps, a student organization affiliated with MTSU’s Office of Health Promotion. When the Stress-Free Zone was described to former director Lisa Schrader, she thought it’d be a perfect fit.
In addition to being one of the library’s largest events, the Stress-Free Zone has now become one of the most successful annual activities for the Raider Health Corps, which helps students create their own de-stress kits. Frequently the line for that table is just as long as the food line.
The Raider Health Corps . . . helps students create their own de-stress kits.
“One of the things we always joke about working on college campuses is that as long as we have food, we’ll always have students in attendance,” Trainum said. “What really struck me over these events, however, was the fact that students were buying into the health aspect of this event as well. I’ll never forget seeing the line this past April and thinking,
‘Oh no, they think it’s the food line!’ So I rushed over, and the students were well aware. They wanted to get some help from the Health Corps too. It made it feel like we were really making a difference here.”
Having food on offer is crucial to the event’s continued success, though, and it was a top priority for Schmand to make sure that it was a fulfilling meal. Gone were the days of fruit and veggie platters. Hot food would mark the difference between this and any similar events on campus.
“In my experience, students don’t always have the time or money or feel they can stop to get a real meal while they are studying,” Schmand said. “We really feel that we can help a student refresh and reset for that final push on a paper or project by bringing substantial food to them in the library. It represents a creative budgeting challenge, but it’s been worth it to deliver a successful event.”
With this past April marking the third Stress-Free Zone for the MTSU library, Trainum was used to the routine. After all the prep was completed, he would go make the announcement of the opening of the event over the public address system. The previous two times this happened, Trainum enjoyed watching the rush of students from the library’s second, third, and fourth floors down the main staircase to grab their de-stress kits and food.
But this time around, it was different. Trainum excitedly rushed back to the library’s atrium after making his announcement and saw no rush of any kind. Doubt started to creep in. Was it too nice a day? Did enough people know about it? Had students lost interest?
All those worries were misplaced. Students had started lining up 10 to 15 minutes early. They just couldn’t wait any longer.
Fall 2023 Stress-Free Zone
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 6–8 p.m., Walker Library