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Advancing Mental Health

Collaboration between Sara and Curt Moll and CWRU will increase clinical providers and propel breakthrough research


Picture of two women talking outdoors with trees and plants behind them.

Interim Provost Joy K. Ward, left, and university trustee Sara Moll discuss launching the new Moll Institute to help address growing mental health needs.

Hope Vaccaro has seen the devastating ways the pandemic has eroded the mental health of children and adults. 

As a doctoral candidate in psychology at Case Western Reserve, she has helped treat campus and community clients after COVID-19 transformed nearly every aspect of daily life. 

“It was so clearly far-reaching within nearly every community,” said Vaccaro (GRS ’21, psychology), who is specializing in child clinical psychology. “These impacts are going to continue to show themselves for many years, in many different ways.” 

After decades as a clinical psychologist and community volunteer, triple-alumna Sara Moll, PhD (FSM ’66; GRS ’90, ’92, psychology), deeply understood those long-term impacts— and felt compelled to respond. Over the summer, the university announced a $60 million collaboration with Moll and her husband, Curt: The Sara and Curt Moll Institute for Mental Health and Well-Being, which will expand the College of Arts and Sciences’ programs to prepare psychologists, produce transformative research and engage collaborators across the university and the broader local community. 

Photo of Curt and Sara Moll

Curt and Sara Moll pledged $23.5 million for the institute on campus. For nearly 30 years, Curt Moll led MTD Products, an outdoor power-equipment manufacturer based in
Northeast Ohio and co-founded by
his father in 1932.

“My own work as a clinical psychologist, coupled with volunteer engagement with community organizations, already had deepened my concerns for the most vulnerable among us,” said Sara Moll, also a university trustee. “The stress and isolation that resulted from COVID-19 intensified existing struggles for many— and significantly increased the number of people needing assistance.”

Committed to addressing the crisis, Moll contacted interim provost Joy K. Ward, PhD, then the college’s dean. After extensive discussions, the Molls pledged $23.5 million to launch the institute, with the university committing to cover the balance. 

“What the Molls imparted on me was this vision of the university being the leader, the driver of mental health breakthroughs in our community and understanding how we can best counsel those and support those in need,” said Ward, who will continue to play a key role in the institute’s development as the university’s interim provost. “This generosity will enable us to make a real difference.” 

As part of the initiative, the university will establish additional faculty positions in psychological sciences and support increased enrollment in the clinical psychology PhD program. Currently, about six candidates are chosen annually from hundreds of applications. 

“There’s a glaring need for evidence- based psychotherapy treatments and training, and demand keeps growing,” said Robert Greene, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences. “The institute allows us to take a more comprehensive approach to address mental health in the immediate term and for years to come.” 

Photo of two students sitting next to each other on a set of stairs

Psychology PhD students Hope Vaccaro and Jenna Bagley | Photo by Juli Regas

Psychology faculty hope to build on existing research strengths, including suicide prevention, childhood anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatments, schizophrenia and other areas. 

“In the years ahead, our field will be focused on how psychotherapy and access to care can evolve and adapt in the modern era,” Vaccaro said. “We need to find ways to get creative to meet growing needs, such as how technology in therapeutic spaces may help bridge the gap.”

The investment in each clinical psychology PhD candidate is significant, as is the potential for each to contribute to the field—in a variety of ways and environments—over their careers. 

“Each of us is equipped to be versatile—from treating patients directly, to teaching, to building on the body of knowledge that helps optimize treatments and make them more effective,” said Jenna Bagley (GRS ’22, psychology), who earned a master’s degree in psychology last year. 

Like Vaccaro, she works with patients in the psychology clinic, where supervised graduate students provide counseling services to community members and university students.

The Moll Institute and the psychology program will be housed in the former Nursing Research Building and occupy roughly 8,700 square feet of renovated space. 

“Helping people make positive changes is the foundation of what we do,” said Bagley, now a PhD student studying PTSD in sexual-assault survivors, who aims to conduct research in clinical settings. “It’s always fulfilling to hear our patients say, ‘I’m feeling better. I can be me again.’”

COVID-19’s Damage to Mental Health

During the first two years of the pandemic, more than 40% of U.S. adults reported experiencing high levels of psychological distress, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly half of parents responding to a recent KFF/ CNN survey said the pandemic had a negative impact on their child’s mental health.

Page last modified: January 16, 2024