Psychosocial Well-Being Grants
In the fall of 2013, BTtoP held a “Well-Being Seminar” to which we invited colleagues representing thirty institutions especially focused on the well-being of students. Our intention in bringing together those already concerned with student well-being was to learn more about advanced theory on the topic, as well as to explore what advanced campus practice in support of well-being looks like.
Subsequently, twenty-nine campuses received BTtoP funding (with required institutional matching) to carry out psychosocial well-being research projects in 2014. Excerpts from the reports of four outstanding projects are below. We also followed up by asking the principal investigators a few additional questions.
For more information on all twenty-nine funded projects, visit the BTtoP Psychosocial Well-Being Initiative Grants webpage: http://www.bttop.org/grants-funding/psychosocial-well-being-initiative-grants.
Civic Engagement as Whole-Student Development: Identity Formation as a Prelude to Flourishing
Principal Investigator: Katherine Janiec Jones, Associate Professor of Religion and Associate Professor
for Curriculum and Co-Curriculum
Project Summary: The Wofford grant project was designed to bridge two initiatives already being developed by different faculty teams on campus: The Sophomore Experience and Religious Pluralism and Worldview Engagement. The Sophomore Experience initiative focused on facilitating civically engaged learning by examining how to better connect students to various opportunities on campus during their sophomore year. The Religious Pluralism and Worldview Engagement initiative focused on student engagement with difference via a course called “Interfaith Engagement and Religious Pluralism,” wherein student writing, oral presentations, and other outputs from the course comprised direct assessments of student learning and reflection on well-being and interfaith literacy and engagement.
Final Report: “One primary theme that has emerged is that efforts towards increased communication and collaboration among different areas of campus will facilitate student learning and psychosocial well-being. This occurs by enhancing both what we can offer to students and how well the faculty and staff who interact with students are able to maintain their own ability to create sustainable structures for learning.
This grant has allowed us to examine several areas of Wofford curricular and co-curricular life in ways that will feed into our thinking about Strategic Vision implementation and our discussions about General Education reform. Because we are in the midst of multiple mission-centered discussions on campus, we feel confident that the results of our work will not end with the completion of this grant.”
As you formed targeted outcomes related to student well-being:
a) What were they?
b) Did you explicitly link them to specific learning outcomes? How?
c) Did you determine if they were achieved, either partially or fully? How?
“Many of our targeted outcomes were related directly to the focus of the course, and we were explicit about that from the very beginning with the students. We evaluated the extent to which we achieved our targeted outcomes by bringing them up throughout the course, and by asking for written reflections at the end of the course. We also gave students copies of the Flourishing Scale and The Religious Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric—and talked about them.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
“My thinking about flourishing—both on the part of students and on the part of faculty and staff—has carried over from this grant work into my current work as Associate Provost for Curriculum and Co-Curriculum. We frequently work for the students—almost to the point of rewarding self-sacrifice—with their flourishing at the forefronts of our minds. We need to remember, though, that a healthy, facilitated, engaged faculty and staff are the foundation for a campus atmosphere that fosters flourishing. In other words, we can’t help our students flourish unless we are also thinking about our own flourishing as a faculty and staff.”
Simon Fraser University
Well-Being in Academic Settings: Taking a Systemic Approach to Student Well-Being and Psychosocial Development in Academic Units
Principal Investigator: Tara Black, Associate Director, Health Promotion
Project Summary: The Simon Fraser University grant project, called Well-Being in Academic Settings, explored how academic units (at the faculty, department, and/or program level) can be engaged in the systemic support of well-being and whole-student development. SFU’s Health Promotion team worked collaboratively with academic units in order to embed well-being and create positive change. The project’s development was shaped by two guiding questions:
• How can academic unit practices, policies, programs, and curricula better support holistic student development and well-being?
• What are examples of practices, policies, programs, and curricula that positively affect holistic student development and well-being?
Final Report: “Through the project implementation, an increased emphasis was placed on relationship building with academic units to jointly create resources and a shared understanding of how academic units can create conditions for well-being in academic settings. This culminated in the creation of the casebook to feature specific examples at SFU. Now that relationships and buy-in with faculty units have been established, the next phase of the work will involve further evaluation of the impacts of the identified examples on student psychosocial well-being, purpose, and sense of community.”
How do you think the project has affected your campus or department?
“This project has been one component of the broader Healthy Campus Community initiative, which has been working to create a culture of well-being across our campus and infuse a consideration of well-being within campus policies, processes, physical spaces, and learning experiences. This particular project has contributed to the engagement of faculty and academic departments in the creation of conditions for well-being.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
“We will likely be publishing a qualitative research paper in the September 2016 edition of Higher Education Studies that provides a student perspective on what well-being in learning environments means to them and how conditions for well-being can be created in higher education settings.
In the fall of 2016 we are planning on conducting an evaluation exercise, called Most Significant Change, to try to better capture how our various efforts within the Healthy Campus Community initiative have affected our campus partners, and have contributed to the creation of conditions for well-being.”
University of La Verne
A Sophomore Seminar Experience: Boosting Success, Well-Being, Sense of Self and Community, and Holism
Principal Investigator: Kat Weaver, Director, La Verne Experience and Associate Professor of Biology
Project Summary: The University of La Verne grant project helped to develop a singular experience for its sophomore students as part of the overall La Verne Experience. The Sophomore La Verne Experience (SoLVE) was designed in a seminar-style format, with a small student cohort that extended the curricular experience into the cocurricular, and was facilitated by a full-time faculty member who was assisted by a peer student drawn from the junior or senior class. SoLVE scaffolded onto the Freshman La Verne Experience (FLEX) by expanding the student experience beyond the classroom and integrating opportunities for personal and social responsibility with relationship building among students, peers, faculty, and the community at large. Students also had opportunities for self-reflection and drawing connections between academe and the world beyond the classroom, expanding their sense of community and encouraging mindfulness, active engagement, and identification of personal values.
Final Report: “The core values of University of La Verne sync well with the goals of psychosocial well-being; so much so that it has taken little effort to integrate psychosocial well-being into the curriculum and cocurricular activities of the university. Our faculty, staff, and students have embraced the deliberate, intentional, and active programming of psychosocial well-being into the La Verne Experience initiative. They have even applauded the intentionality of our efforts because it has benefitted all through increased retention and persistence, higher GPAs, students who are content and feel connected to the community, and faculty who can walk into a class and know that their students are confident in their personal habits and values.”
What emphasis did your project place on understanding what well-being could mean?
“A great deal of emphasis was placed on what well-being could mean. Well-being to us is reflected in student academic performance and persistence, as well as overall social and academic involvement. As a Hispanic-serving institution, we also felt that it was important that our approach be connected with the needs of our student population (49.3 percent Hispanic, 47 percent low-income, 60 percent first-generation, and most students work).”
How might your campus facilitate or sustain greater manifestations of well-being in the lives of students and/or faculty?
“By creating spaces within the curriculum and cocurriculum to talk about well-being. FLEX is taken by all incoming freshmen, and SoLVE is required for all second-year students and incoming transfers. In addition, we have also begun an initiative through the La Verne Experience and the chaplain’s offices to start a Passport to Purposeful Life. The passport will ask students to think about their connections and development of purpose. They will be referred to offices across campus trained to talk with students in culturally responsive ways about purpose, career, and well-being. We hope this will sustain our efforts and continue the connections between the curriculum and cocurriculum.”
Do you think the project affected faculty or staff engagement and/or well-being? How?
“Yes! As a parallel to the student survey, we also surveyed the faculty teaching within the FLEX learning community. These faculty members reported a sense of belonging and greater job satisfaction because of their community. In addition, faculty are shown the data from both surveys. This has led to transparency and a culture of support.”
Measuring Socioemotional Well-Being of Students in Intergroup Dialogue Program
Principal Investigator: Gretchen E. Lopez, Director, Intergroup Dialogue Program
Project Summary: The Syracuse University (SU) grant project measured facets of socioemotional well-being for students enrolled in three courses that illustrate SU’s commitment to educating the whole student and that draw students from across disciplines. The courses included Intergroup Dialogue, Personal and Social Responsibility, and Cognitive Behavioral Approaches to Stress Reduction. Faculty who led these courses share a commitment to experiential learning that addresses self-inquiry and critical thinking, empathy and perspective-taking, personal and social identities, agency, and civic engagement. The three courses served as the basis for the development of survey instruments and interview protocols to better understand the impact of engaged learning on college students’ well-being.
Final Report: “In gathering qualitative data, we were interested in capturing student narratives about engaged learning and well-being. These data provided the opportunity to explore questions such as: Do these courses inform students’ understanding of their education as a whole? Do they affect social relationships outside of academic or class settings? Do these courses inform students’ thinking about future careers and/or participation in diverse democracy? Based on previous assessment and research, we anticipated vivid examples of application and construction of knowledge from students’ involvement in the courses. Indeed, video-recorded interviews captured student reflections about critical educational spaces and engaged learning.”
Do you think the project affected faculty or staff engagement and/or well-being? How?
“Admittedly, given how strong the sense of community was in these courses (at least as described by the students interviewed in this project), it does give me pause as a faculty member. I found myself asking why such community—from which one can grow (and reach others) as a whole student or being—is described as such a rarity.”
What emphasis did your project place on practical examples of how well-being is made manifest in the lives of students? What did you gain?
“We interviewed students at the end of the semester or academic year and asked open-ended questions about their learning through dialogue (specifically, intergroup dialogue academic courses). Given that we didn’t ask explicitly about how dialogue-based learning impacted ‘well-being,’ it was eye-opening and inspiring for us—as faculty/facilitators of these courses—to see how often dialogue students connected their course learning with their broader lives. They eagerly shared how dialogue shaped who they are becoming as people ... and engaged citizens on and off campus. They talked in ways that helped us understand how dialogue, and the design and educational and personal challenges of these courses, support their interactions and ‘meaning making’ in higher education. That is, they described feeling listened to and respected, and moved to deep thinking not only about persistent social issues and seemingly intractable conflicts, but also about themselves.
The students describe in detail the sense of community created (or cocreated) in these courses/classrooms and how that reverberates through their educational and social interactions on campus. For example, some students describe the significance of writing frequent critical reflections that analyze and integrate readings, group processes in the classroom, and personal understandings and questions. Students link this to the growing confidence they have in speaking up and/or speaking out in other classes or on campus. They describe this writing as preparing them to be both open and strong in sharing their perspectives, their stories, and their positions in other contexts. They say dialogue strengthened their self-insight, voice, and willingness to put themselves ‘out there.’ Students also frequently refer to how dialogue-based learning has affected their family as well as peer relationships. They see more things, express a critical awareness, and they also express (or share examples of) being more willing to question or even interrupt/disrupt conflicts that reflect unequal power relations. Such agency, in the descriptions of their lived experiences and even most personal relationships, appears to come from and to extend a sense of well-being.”