CAPS Cab takes students for a ride across campus

CAPS director Kim Gorman (middle) and substance abuse specialist Christy Wyatt (right) speak with freshman Veronica Sanchez of Rocky Mount.

CAPS director Kim Gorman (middle) and substance abuse specialist Christy Wyatt (right) speak with freshman Veronica Sanchez of Rocky Mount.

With the popular television game show “Cash Cab” no longer in production, Western Carolina University’s Office of Counseling and Psychological Services has found a way to bring its version to campus.

There’s no money to be had. And there’s no cab, per se. Nevertheless, CAPS director Kim Gorman and substance abuse specialist Christy Wyatt have come up with an innovative way to make WCU students aware of their services using the Cash Cab model.

Introducing CAPS Cab.

CAPS Cab is actually a golf cart. About twice a month, Gorman and Wyatt ride around campus looking to offer rides to unsuspecting students. For those brave enough to take them up on the offer, they not only get a free ride, but they get a chance to win prizes by answering a few questions. And unlike the game show, no one has been kicked out for missing three questions.

“The intention of it is to make the students aware of our services in a very fun, interactive way,” Gorman said. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to provide some psycho-education around mental health issues.”

The idea initially came to Wyatt while she was watching a Cash Cab re-run. Later, during a staff meeting, she wondered what it would be like to make their services mobile. A little brainstorming by the CAPS team, and the result was CAPS Cab.

“It’s really just raising that awareness and understanding about the different issues that students deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Wyatt said.

Here’s how it works. The two approach a student and introduce themselves. They ask if the student would like a ride to his or her destination and inform them they can win prizes by answering some questions.

CAPS director Kim Gorman (right) and substance abuse specialist Christy Wyatt frame the cab.

CAPS director Kim Gorman (right) and substance abuse specialist Christy Wyatt frame the cab.

Wyatt drives the cart and rings a cowbell when a question is answered correctly. Gorman asks the questions and jots down the answers. The questions begin with basics about CAPS, such as:

• Where is CAPS located?

• How much do the services cost?

• Who is eligible to use the services?

• What were two of the top four presenting concerns that students came to CAPS with last year?

From there, they get more specific to that month’s topic. September’s theme was “Recovery.” Students were asked, “What percentage of WCU students say they have not had any alcoholic beverages in the last 30 days – 35 percent, 58 percent or 82 percent?” and “How would you help a friend who says they’re in recovery from drugs and alcohol?”

It’s the percentage of students drinking alcohol question that stumps most students, Gorman said. The answer is 82 percent of WCU students said they have not had any alcoholic beverages in the last 30 days.

“That’s pretty normal for students to respond that way,” Wyatt said. “We really want to do some of the social normalization around drugs and alcohol so that people, the students especially, understand even though it may feel like ‘everybody’s drinking,’ that’s not necessarily true.”

Veronica Sanchez, a freshman nursing major from Rocky Mount, answered every question except for the alcohol one correctly on her way to get a parking pass. She said she enjoyed the experience.

“It was nice,” Sanchez said. “I learned that not all college students drink.”

In addition to getting a CAPS sticker and a Starbucks coupon, Sanchez was given a card to claim a prize with the caveat being she had to redeem it at the CAPS office in Room 225 of the Bird Building.

“We did a needs assessment last fall and found that almost half of the students who did the assessment had no idea where our office was,” said Gorman, who also wants students to know that their services are free. “So we wanted to get out and let them know we’re friendly people and fun people. And we have programs for them.”

Tyler Philpott, a senior from Polk County majoring in entrepreneurship and also a member of the football team, knew exactly where the office was. He also knew the answer to all of the questions except for the dreaded alcohol one.

“I learned some new things,” he said. “I think (CAPS Cab) helps out a lot of students on campus.”

Gorman said CAPS has received great support from across WCU. In addition to Residential Living loaning the golf cart, departments like the Campus Recreation Center, Student Affairs, campus dining, the bookstore and athletics have all donated prizes.

Student response to the CAPS Cab also has been positive, Gorman said. She and Wyatt spoke to more 30 students during their first two days of cab rides.

“What’s pleasing for us is when we start asking those really hard questions like around sexual assault, their responses are just so caring and so warm,” Gorman said. “We know that our students are providing this kind of community of care that we really are hoping to build here at Western. That’s been rewarding, as well.”

Gorman said they are collecting data such as how many questions the students are getting right and wrong, so they can build future programming around the responses. But for now, it’s all about making their services and location known in case there is a time when a student will need to use them. And having a little fun in the process.

“This is like the greatest outreach ever,” Gorman said. “We get to interact with the students in a one-on-one. We can adjust what we’re saying to them. This provides a great opportunity to shape a message and also hear from them. We’re getting feedback, as well.”