Campus Highlight: Oregon State University: Paths to Flourishing

By Michele D. Ribeiro, Interim Assistant Director of Mental Health Promotion, Oregon State University; and Amy K. Thomson, Assistant Dean, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and former Coordinator of Mental Health Promotion, Oregon State Universi

Oregon State University (OSU) is at a crossroads. The campus and student population are expanding and reorganizing at unprecedented rates through new infrastructure, buildings, global student representation, and an increase in new degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. In times of transition such as these, the opportunities to re-examine, and possibly re-frame, how we support student success, flourishing, and positive community growth is available to us as never before. Our ultimate aim is to create flourishing as a core competency on the OSU campus.

As we consider all the ways our students interact with and move through OSU, it is our goal to infuse more intentional learning opportunities into new and existing structures and processes. We are aiming to hone and develop practices that will increase the mental well-being, whole-person learning, and ultimately academic engagement and success of our students. We also believe that faculty and staff need to flourish as students strive for wholeness. To create real and lasting impact on our campus, we need to be inclusive of the various constituencies that make up our community, including teaching and professional faculty, advisors, and students.

Corey Keyes’ model of flourishing is our compass. According to Keyes, “flourishing is defined as a state in which an individual feels positive toward life and is functioning well psychologically and socially” (2007). In winter 2013, Keyes came to OSU and key stakeholders invested their time and consideration identifying how to bring flourishing to the OSU community organizationally and personally. A coalition of campus partners identified as the Mental Health Initiative (MHI) group, led by Counseling and Psychological Services, was established with the following goals:

  • begin to understand where the presence and absence of flourishing is in our students and on our campus
  • identify how to impact our campus and create intentional opportunities to flourish
  • continue to develop the Mental Health Initiative as a learning community

After OSU joined the Bringing Theory to Practice Project at the September 2013 Well-Being gathering, the MHI realized flourishing was a concept that was experienced and practiced in dynamic and diverse ways. From this, the MHI created a Flourishing @ OSU lecture series that focuses on OSU and community perspectives on how flourishing is understood through student services, teaching, advising, coaching, writing, and contemplative practices. The MHI is creating a library of these talks and other resources on its website that help define what flourishing is through the lens of the various speakers (http://oregonstate.edu/counsel/mental_health_initiative/flourishing_lectures). The series has created a buzz on campus, with more stakeholders contacting the MHI to find out how they too can engage in the work.

The MHI working group further identified a focus on the first year-experience (FYE) and advising. The first project that we will assess for effectiveness will be creating a ten-week FYE course that focuses on flourishing. The syllabus for this course will be intentionally crafted with research-based practices that include, but are not limited to, specific exercises outlined in Seligman (2011). A second intervention will intentionally incorporate the academic advising experience into an FYE course as well as a reflective writing assignment, as research supports writing as a process of self-renewal, which can in turn lead to flourishing (Higgins 2011; Adams and Lohndorf 2013).

It is our hope at OSU that this project will provide a platform for long-term decision making, as we consider shaping intentional experiences on campus that promote flourishing.

References
Adams, K. and R. Lohndorf. 2013. The Flourishing Principal: Strategies for Self-Renewal. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Higgins, D. 2011. “Why reflect? Recognizing the Link between Learning and Self-Reflection.” Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives 12 (5).

Keyes, C. L. M. 2007. “Promoting and Protecting Mental Health as Flourishing: A Complementary Strategy for Improving National Mental Health.” American Psychologist 62 (2), 95-108.

Schreiner, L. A. 2010. “The Thriving Quotient: A New Vision for Student Success.”About Campus 15 (2), 2-10.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. New York, NY: Free Press