San Marcos,
08:46 AM

New Professor Tackles Student Stress with Cogtoolz Planner

By Eric Breier

It is a sure bet that Christina Holub will be ready if “Shark Tank” ever comes calling.

Holub, recently hired as an assistant professor of public health at Cal State San Marcos, created a wellness-focused academic planner to help students better cope with school-life balance. She entered the planner in a contest that was set up similar to the reality TV show in which budding entrepreneurs present their business concepts to a panel.

And she won.

Holub was working as a research assistant professor at San Diego State when she took first place in the social track category of the university’s Zahn Innovation Challenge in the spring of 2015. Her winning project used paper academic planners to help people manage their mental health through a variety of wellness tools.

“The contest was a really good intersection between public health and entrepreneurship,” Holub said. “It was really interesting to try something different. You could really think about, ‘There’s a health problem that’s normally addressed one-on-one through counseling and therapy. But how can we address that from a public health perspective?’ ”

Award money from the contest helped Holub found Cogtoolz to produce the planners for a wider audience. The planners were available in SDSU and UC San Diego bookstores during the 2015-16 academic year and sold out. They will be available in CSUSM’s bookstore before the start of the semester on Aug. 29.

Holub launched a Kickstarter campaign, running July 29-Aug. 27, with a goal of raising at least $2,000 to produce a smaller, 6-inch by 9-inch version of the planner in response to customer feedback from the first run.

While the digital age has led most students to rely on a computer device for their calendar planning in recent years, Holub noticed paper planners beginning to enjoy a resurgence. While she has a planner app undergoing beta testing, she likes that everything is in one easy-to-find place with the paper planner.

“If students are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, or if they are experiencing depression and anxiety, some of those tools are already implemented in the calendar format and they can practice them and have reminders,” she said.

Holub started the project with a general wellness planner, which focuses on issues like improving mood, measuring the severity of anxiety and stress-reducing tools and tips. She said one of the most popular tools is a self-care checklist called GRAPES -- Gentle With Self, Relaxation, Accomplishment, Pleasure, Exercise and Social.

“A lot of times if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you’re not doing a lot those things,” she said. “It can help remind you to take care of yourself.”

The student version includes all of the features in the wellness planner as well as additional tools specific to academics.

Holub said it's important to note that the planner is not a replacement for a counselor, and CSUSM's Student Health and Counseling Services is a great resource for any student who needs support.

While Holub continues work on the planners, she is also excited to be part of CSUSM’s Master of Public Health program at its inception. She has experience in public health programs at four other universities, earning her masters from Yale, her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working at SDSU and teaching classes at National University.

“It’s really nice to take all of that experience and figure out how we can build a great public health program here,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”

Holub has been transitioning to her new position over the summer, spending three days a week at CSUSM and two days at SDSU. She will be here full time in late August.

In addition to teaching public health courses, she is piloting an exercise program for Pacific Islanders called PIC Health.

“We work side by side with the Pacific Islander community from start to finish,” said Holub, who added that she is looking for interns at CSUSM who have an interest in exercise and health promotion.

Visit for more information on the planners or Holub’s Kickstarter campaign, and for information on her research.