Rockstar Winner Jacob Griffin Strives for Health Equity in the Education System

When Jacob received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity, he worked with his local Youth MOVE Indiana chapter, served on the Indiana Suicide Prevention Advisory Council, and had coordinated an Active Minds chapter. During his time as a college student, he focused his efforts on increasing supports for other students in need of counseling and psychological services on campuses by increasing awareness of these issues with university trustees, student affairs administrators, politicians, and campus communities. He formed a task force, and later an independent 501(c)3, dedicated to integrating research and current college trends with best practices. This resulted in increased student success despite adversity. According to his peers, Jacob has served as an inspiration for anyone with whom he engages and is an exemplary role model for youth advocates.

It’s why we wanted to catch up with him now that the Rockstar Awards is open for nominations and we’re looking for a new RWJF Award for Health Equity recipient—which comes with a $3,000 cash prize.

What work have you been up to since winning the Rockstar Award in 2017?

While I’ve made progress in furthering the conversation about the need for increased behavioral health resources in higher education, in order to have the most meaningful impact, specific action is now needed for legislation. Last session congress legislation was introduced and died(with the shutdown) known as the Higher Education Mental Health Act of 2018. This session new legislation, The Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act, to promote student access to lifesaving suicide prevention resources was introduced and I believe it is a step in the right direction. For example under the act, universities would be required to add the national suicide prevention lifeline information to the back of student ID cards.

The Rockstar Awards are decided by a committee of young adults involved in systems change work nationwide. What did winning the Rockstar Award mean to you?

The distinction provided affirmation that my efforts weren’t going unnoticed. It’s easy to get bogged down and feel like I’m not making any headway, especially when going head-to-head against the resources of big universities. I think young adults of our time have been among the first to realize how pivotal positive mental health is to overall wellbeing, so their acknowledgment in deciding I was worthy of this award I think speaks volumes to the distinct proof of concept and need for the work my team and I have done and I couldn’t be more obliged by the result.

How has your work impacted the lives of young adults in your field? What makes you passionate about doing the work you do?

I’m confident that my team and I have evoked meaningful systemic change for the more than 150 higher education institutions we’ve reached in the last three years! Our efforts have improved educational outcomes for over a million students, through countless improvements to their health systems. The 70-ish task-forces and community collaborations we’ve fostered will persist, thus benefitting generations to come! I’ve always said that I’ve been compelled to do this work from my exposure to these disparities, knowing that something isn’t always being done but can be is encouraging. Knowing students have timely access to counselors, especially when in crisis is pivotal and knowing the adverse outcomes, motivates me to keep fighting the good fight.

What can we expect next from you?

I realize there are limitations to the number of “cases” we’re able to take. So I’ve started to compile a framework of examples, resources, and case templates—which will be made available in the public domain for independent use. I think without a doubt these resources will keep this conversation going.

Where can we find out more about you? Shamelessly plug yourself!

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. My nonprofit, Griffin Ambitions, which operates as the Student Mental Health Policy Alliance, is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and online at You can always drop me a line:

Know a young adult who should be recognized as a Rockstar Youth Advocate of the Year? Nominate them today for the Rockstar Awards 2019!

Leave a Reply