Meet the 2021 George Orley Student Mental Health Advocate Award Winners

Two outstanding students were presented with the George Orley Student Mental Health Advocate Award at the virtual 2021 Depression on College Campuses Conference this past March.

The 2021 awardees, Sara Abelson, MPH, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Michael Sczechowski of the University of Delaware, each received a certificate and $1,000 for a project or organization of their choice. Both students have demonstrated excellence in finding ways to combat mental health crises on college campuses.

About Sara Abelson

A doctoral graduate student at the U-M School of Public Health, Abelson’s research is focused on the equity of college student’s mental health. She has worked with renowned organizations across the nation to help lead mental health initiatives, and currently serves as the Lead for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Projects for the Health Minds Network at U-M. Her advocacy helped form the public safety and policing working group in the Rackham Graduate School’s Task Force on Student Mental Health.

Abelson’s advisor, Daniel Eisenberg, Ph.D., describes her as a “stellar scholar with a genuine passion for improving how colleges and universities support the development and well-being of college students,” as well as someone who “has made important contributions to college health through advocacy, education, and research.”

“Your voice and your experiences matter,” says Abelson to her fellow classmates and students, as continues to advocate for the betterment of student mental health, which she does through both practice and research. “I’m a better researcher when I’m immersed in practice, and I’m a better practitioner when I’m also immersed in research,” says Abelson, hoping to pursue both in her career after graduate school.   

About Michael Sczechowski

Sczechowski is a senior majoring in Philosophy at the University of Delaware. His training as a peer support specialist has been integral for the functioning of Sean’s House on the university’s campus, a non-profit mental health safe haven available for 24/7 peer support. Sczechowski has volunteered hundreds of hours, especially during the pandemic, to help serve over 500 individuals since the House’s opening. His dedication to suicide prevention and helping others serves as inspiration for all those around him.

“Michael’s compassion and natural ability to help others has made lasting impressions on every guest who has walked through the doors. He treats everyone with empathy and sincerity and provides the safe space that many teens and young adults need to feel comfortable sharing their experiences,” says Michael’s advisor.

Michael hopes that everyone “finds inspiration to be compassionate and brave about speaking about mental illness,” and hopes to continue mental health advocacy as he pursues graduate school.

About the George Orley Student Mental Health Advocate Award

Made possible through the generous support of Randy and Diane Orley of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, along with their children Amanda and Sam Orley, the award is named to honor the memory of Randy and Diane’s son and Amanda and Sam’s brother George, who lost his battle with depression prior to his junior year at the University of Michigan in August 2013. Undergraduate and graduate students are nominated from across the country for this prestigious award, which recognizes outstanding student leadership in the area of campus mental health.