Getting to Know Carla Bradley
New Counseling Director Talks Data, STEM Students, and Technology
By Michael Hagearty September 4, 2018
The child of an engineer, Carla Bradley learned the power of data to persuade early on, when she surveyed her grade-school classmates in order to make the case to her parents for a larger allowance. That early success brought with it an appreciation for evidence-based approaches to problem solving.
She joined Georgia Tech in July as its new director for the Counseling Center, which provides mental health services and support to Tech’s student population. A licensed psychologist with a doctorate in clinical psychology, Bradley has spent the last 16 years at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“I am thrilled to be at a STEM school where there’s a real dedication to solving problems and helping the world,” she said. “To be surrounded by this kind of intellectual energy and passion is a real privilege, and I want to work with students in any way I can to make the Counseling Center a place of innovation and service.”
Bradley sat down for an interview to share her enthusiasm for collaboration, her thoughts on technology-based options for mental health, and approaches for serving all students in need of support.
You are currently pursuing a master’s degree in Engineering Management. What was your motivation to begin and what interests you about the connections between engineering and psychology?
It began when my former institution initiated a merger between the two counseling centers on campus. As a result, I began to ask: ‘How does organizational change best occur?’ ‘What’s good management?’ ‘What’s good leadership?’ These were just philosophical questions that were in my head; when I expressed them to a colleague she told of a program offered in the School of Engineering. I never connected the idea of engineering to management, but the experience has been wonderful. My dad’s a retired engineer, so I speak a little bit of this language.
I think the connection between STEM and psychology is that psychology is trying to become increasingly clear about what ails people and what helps people, with an evidentiary basis to our problem-solving efforts. I like the engineering approach for solving problems: Identify an issue, understand the nature of the problem, and find solutions that make people’s lives easier. That’s a fundamental connection between what engineers do and what mental health professionals do.
I’ve heard from some students that a major reason they are excited to work with you is because of your plans for collaboration with existing resources. Can you share some of your early ideas in this regard?
One of the biggest challenges in collegiate mental health today is what I’ve referred to as the “flow and volume problem.” We have a greater volume of students seeking services across the nation than we historically have, and this volume creates a difficulty with serving students as rapidly as they would like to be served and as rapidly as we would like to serve them. I am interested in what engineering might be able to offer in terms of a collaboration. We know these engineering principles have been effective for improving volume and flow problems in hospitals through the use of queueing theory, for example.
What role does data play?
Data plays a prominent role in the analysis of college mental health at the national level. There are several large-scale, collaborative efforts across the nation, and data feeds into them. From this data bank, we can tell how our student concerns compare to those at the national level.
The top three concerns at Georgia Tech — depression, anxiety, and relationship concerns — are very consistent with what’s happening nationally. For Tech students, it’s a particular type of intense pressure around grades, as well as notions of accomplishment and success that I think are different from [students in] other parts of the country.