From the Director: Perspectives, Insights, and Evidence

By Don Harward, Director, Bringing Theory to Practice Project

Throughout the next three years (2015–2017), the BTtoP Project will be supporting campuses through its grant opportunities—grants that act as “seeds of change,” helping campuses to make possible significant initiatives, discussions, and research. Whether these seeds “take hold” will be determined by the interest and commitment from a team of campus members. And, typically, they will grow “from the bottom up.” On other campuses, however, these initiatives will grow from their leadership’s attention to a national agenda regarding well-being and higher education—an agenda that is credible, compelling, and vigorously promulgated—under which campus work at the institution could be stimulated, sustained, recognized, and valued.

Building on the recognition of work that has already been achieved and on the gains from the campus initiatives that will be supported by BTtoP in 2015–2017, and drawing on new publications regarding well-being (analogous to the Civic Series, available on our website) we hope, with your assistance, to help to craft that national agenda.

It is a privilege to use the director’s column to call attention to several voices championing the connections of engaged learning and well-being. You will gain from considering their perspectives as you craft your own responses to our 2015–2017 RFP or consider participating in ongoing (and now more central than ever) conversations that explore the meaning and implications of creating and sustaining those connections. In addition to Corey Keyes’s important piece highlighted earlier in this issue, each of the below-referenced pieces are available on the BTtoP website.

Kazi Joshua is the associate dean for intercultural affairs and chief diversity officer at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, a liberal arts institution with a rich history of engagement. His essay “Is Well-Being an Individual Matter?” was offered as a ‘provocation’ at a BTtoP planning conference regarding well-being last November—and ‘provoke’ it did! His philosophical, yet practical, perspective regarding the reality of the necessary connection of learning and of self to community (other) is convincing: “I think that we are challenged to consider the well-being of students in the communal context in which they live and study.”

Elsa Núñez is president of Eastern Connecticut State University, a public regional university enjoying a well-earned reputation for championing engagement in learning. Her remarks, “Student Well-Being as a Function of Identity Development,” were given when she served as a panelist in a BTtoP featured session at the AAC&U Annual Meeting Centennial Symposium this January. She told a story that drew on her own experiences and those of her students, and its significance transcends those particulars. “[T]he issue of identity [gender, race, social class; personal and group] which our students face is crucial…[H]ow a student feels about themselves and the world around them is central to their motivation and capacity to learn.”

Several colleagues close to BTtoP over many years have also each provided a clear and strategically helpful “voice”—especially for those developing a proposal in response to the RFP. In “Strengthening Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education,” Barry Checkoway poses strategic questions for involving first-generation or low-income students or students of color in academically based educational programs that contribute to their well-being. “Faculty members are strategically situated to promote the well-being of these students”—and he suggests how they might consider doing so.

In “Well-Being of All Participants Builds Success,” Jill Reich argues that “[it] is vital to the success of our colleges and universities to consider the well-being of faculty and other professional educators.… Are faculty and staff supported…and valued for using engaging pedagogies…?” She asks us to reflect on what faculty identity, and well-being, now mean and how they are understood and attended to.

Ashley Finley’s piece, “The Evidence on Well-Being: A Synopsis of Bringing Theory to Practice Research,” is a most impressive voice of evidence. Not only are the findings striking, but the report is unique in comparing studies of campus data from BTtoP grants to national research projects related to student well-being. It presents some of the growing evidentiary basis for the Project’s advancement of the connections among engaged learning, student well-being, and students’ deepened civic engagement.

These are but a few of many voices and perspectives which reflect and document a theme of connecting engagement and well-being. We are indebted to Corey Keyes for his essay published in this issue, and are equally indebted and encouraged by the voices mentioned above—as we know you will be. They provide essential insights regarding what must be reflected in any valuable national and collaborative agenda for well-being and higher education.