A Rodney the Ram mascot standing next to a woman.
Mia Liadis, Ph.D., a three-time alum, is focused on outreach and education for students in areas such as mental, sexual and relationship health as assistant director for health promotion at VCU. (Contributed photo)

Meet-a-Ram: RecWell’s Mia Liadis blends VCU student experience into a career focused on student well-being

As a leader in health promotion, she supports student well-being and community building on multiple fronts.

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By the numbers – in her case, 1-3-10-1 – Mia Liadis has made a mark at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Liadis, Ph.D., was a first-generation college student in her family, and she earned three degrees at VCU. In the 10 years since finishing her undergraduate studies, she has been a professional at VCU, now serving as assistant director for health promotion with Recreation and Well-Being in the Division of Student Affairs. And that final “1”? She was just named a winner of the VCU Staff Senate’s 2024 Professional Integrity Award.

“I feel like VCU has brought me a lot of opportunities to feel fulfilled,” said Liadis who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 2014 and an M.Ed. in 2017. “I can only hope that in working with our students, they have a similar opportunity as well.”

At RecWell, and through adjunct roles in VCU’s School of Education and Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, Liadis uses her health education and counseling background to bring compassion and empathy to issues of student health and well-being. Her master’s degree focused on college student counseling and development, and her doctorate focused on counselor education and supervision.

VCU News caught up with Liadis to talk about her Ram experiences and her commitment to health promotion.

How did your student years turn into an emerging career at VCU?

As a student, I had all kinds of different jobs on campus. I was an orientation leader. I was also a teaching assistant for a Psychology of Women course, and I did my service-learning with the health promotion office, formerly called The Well. I was also a supplemental instructor in our Campus Learning Center for psychology. I had great mentors who really inspired me to stay in higher education.

And I was passionate about health advocacy and health equity – as an undergraduate, my majors in psychology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies helped me understand health disparities and health equity. So, when I met folks through The Well who were doing some of this work, I thought this might be it for me.

At RecWell, my role is focused on outreach and education for topics such as mental, sexual and relationship health. We also address alcohol and drug education, nutrition and physical health.

How did a VCU course and professor influence your path?

As an undergraduate, I took a politics of race, class and gender course that helped shape my lenses about the intersections of systemic advocacy and well-being. And as a graduate student, I loved my counseling techniques course because it was the first time I learned tangible skills to support others. It was a full-circle moment when I later got to teach that class! 

And I am consistently inspired by Abigail Conley, Ph.D., in VCU’s counselor education program. Along the spectrum of health advocacy, the topic of prevention and intervention can feel very separate between my fields of counseling and health promotion, but Dr. Conley has supported my journey in blending those worlds together in my research and practice.

What are notable trends or topics in student well-being, and how are you addressing them?

If we look at national research in higher education, and our data from the VCU National College Health Assessment, we know that prospective students consider how a university might help them academically and to find a job, but they’re also looking at how they might fit and feel supported in their experience. Mental health is a big topic across many universities right now. It’s important for us to do programming around how can we build community and take care of one another at VCU.

That includes how we can engage in self-care and how we can incorporate mindfulness in the classroom or in our student organizations. At RecWell, our Mindful Ambassador program is where faculty, students and staff get in the same room to talk about how they can incorporate it together. It brings connection to these groups that they might not get otherwise.

Managing stress, anxiety and procrastination are some of our most highly requested topics, and we know that students who feel supported at VCU are more likely to stay here. That was certainly my experience, and I would love for students to know that people at VCU care about them and their well-being.

What are other ways you work with students and service partners?

Our team addresses health from multiple levels – that includes peer-to-peer support that promotes healthy experiences in college, as well as trainings, workshops and presentations in classrooms, residence halls and for student organizations. We employ a lot of students, such as Peer Health Educators, health and physical sciences interns, and graduate assistants from rehabilitation counseling or counselor education programs.

Working with Student Health Services, we help connect students with campus and community resources that support their health, and our programs have included STI testing events, flu prevention, and healthy heart education. RecWell’s community partners over the years have included Health Brigade, Side By Side and other health-oriented nonprofits.

What’s coming up as spring continues – and as a new school year awaits in the fall?

In April, we’re doing a national alcohol screening day, which we’re calling Party on the Plaza, and we’re co-sponsoring the Research to Recovery conference, with Rams in Recovery. And as exams arrive, our Mindful Final series will support students at peak stress times. We offer programming for both Monroe Park and MCV Campuses.

For the new school year, October focuses on mental health for students, so we work with University Counseling Services to offer a student mental health fair. The first six weeks of the fall semester are called the Red Zone in health promotion, meaning folks might be at higher risk for issues related to sexual assault and alcohol or other drug use. So we do a lot of education, outreach and support to reduce risk associated with those concerns.

You know the VCU campus well – what’s your favorite spot?

There’s a courtyard over by Oliver Hall and the Life Sciences building. It’s a nice, quiet outdoor space. A great spot for reading or studying.

And the best advice you ever received?

I had a professor who was talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. She said, “If you think you know it all, you’re no longer doing the work.” I think about this message often, and it is something I discuss as an instructor, a supervisor, and a colleague.

Editor’s note: Meet-a-Ram is an occasional VCU News series about the students, faculty, staff and alumni who make Virginia Commonwealth University such a dynamic place to live, work and study.