Gift Boosts Blue Jays’ Well-Being

May 12, 2023 by Ruth Wendlandt

Endowed fund supports student-athletes’ mental health and performance programs

The Johns Hopkins University Department of Athletics is focused on leading the way when it comes to providing mental health resources for its nearly 700 student-athletes. In 2021, Ari Miller, assistant director of student-athlete mental health and performance and licensed professional counselor (LCP), joined the university, where he’s created a game plan to increase wellness initiatives for current Blue Jays. To support Miller’s goals, Jeffrey Shiu, a 2002 Krieger School graduate, and his wife Emily Liu established the Jeffrey Ma Shiu and Emily Liu Mental Health and Wellness Endowment Fund.

Jeffrey Shiu, Emily Liu, and their two children are standing and smiling in a park. Shiu is holding their son and Liu is standing behind their daughter.
Johns Hopkins alum Jeffrey Shiu and his wife Emily Liu established the Jeffrey Ma Shiu and Emily Liu Mental Health and Wellness Endowment Fund, supporting the Department of Athletics wellness programs.

“We admire the fact that Hopkins recognizes the importance of mental health and well-being. There’s an outlet for student-athletes to share their feelings and seek out support,” says Shiu. “We want this gift to be an additive to the infrastructure Hopkins is building. We want to give Ari more tools and give students more access and pathways.”

The fund will expand on philanthropic priorities of incorporating telehealth pods, team-specific workshops, and additional programming. Currently, there are three mental health-focused student-athlete groups. According to Miller, in the past four years student-athletes are reporting increased levels of depression and anxiety. The mental health program is rooted in preventative intervention.

Ari Miller creates wellness initiatives for the Department of Athletics, assisting the 24 varsity programs, coaches, and nearly 700 current Blue Jays. Above: Miller is holding a group session with student-athletes. Image: Will Kirk

“We are building out enhanced education for student-athletes around mental health and performance, giving them a chance to talk openly about what it means to ask for help, and what resources we have on and off campus,” Miller says. “We have individual meetings, full team sessions, and I work with coaches to consult and advise on specific situations.”

Jennifer Baker, associate vice provost and director of athletics and recreation at Johns Hopkins, calls mental health a top priority. She described the endowed gift as a tangible demonstration of the department’s commitment to supporting student-athletes.

“There are not a lot of college campuses and athletic departments that have these programs. It makes me proud to be a leader and have partners and supporters in Jeff and Emily,” Baker says. “Ari has been an exceptional addition to our department.”

“If we can help students control how they are thinking, feeling, and approaching things, it can help them be the best versions of themselves,” adds Shiu.

The men’s basketball team is one of the 24 varsity programs to collaborate with Miller. Head Coach Josh Loeffler acknowledged how student-athletes strive to be elite both academically and athletically, which brings additional stress. He explained that student-athletes are frequently receiving critical feedback whether it’s from coaches, the scoreboard, teammates, or from themselves. As a basketball program, Loeffler notes how Miller assists in different ways from helping with group dynamics to individual meetings.

Johns Hopkins basketball coach Josh Loeffler huddles with his players including Sidney Thybulle who is standing.
Ari Miller has collaborated with men’s basketball coach Josh Loeffler through group dynamics and individual meetings. Here, he huddles with his team, including senior forward Sidney Thybulle (15).

“Our student-athletes have benefited greatly from those meetings,” says Loeffler. “If we want to compete to be the best, we have to acknowledge that all of our student-athletes have to show up feeling their best. At Johns Hopkins, that means being in the best headspace coming from the academic sphere over to athletics, and in their daily lives.”

Sidney Thybulle agrees. The senior basketball forward and 2022 and 2023 Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Year says he has gained a greater understanding of the importance of mental health throughout his athletic tenure on the court. “It’s balancing high-level athletics and high-level academic rigor. Being a student-athlete takes a big toll on your mind,” says Thybulle, a computer science major from Irvington, New York. “I’m happy to be at a place like Hopkins that invests in mental health. It’s far beyond the weight rooms and facilities; it’s the people we surround ourselves with and the resources we can get so our head is in the best space possible.”

Thybulle emphasizes that Miller understands the pressures of being a student-athlete.

“Ari is one of the most valuable members we have in the athletics department,” he says. “In my work with him, it’s his ability to help me reframe the issues I’m facing whether it’s on the court or off. To talk to someone and have someone to confide in and trust is so important.”

Reframing perspective is one of Shiu’s hopes for current and future Blue Jays as they make the most of Miller’s resources.

“Student-athletes who take advantage of this mental health program are going to remember how they felt when they needed support. It’s going to carry forward into their lives,” says Shiu. “I’m proud to be a part of the university. Johns Hopkins cares about the well-being of its students. The university wants to be the leader in mental health and well-being awareness.”

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Topics: Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Blue Jays Unlimited (Athletics), Promote and Protect Health, Support Scholars