Bringing Theory to Practice Well-Being Research Project Grant: The Relationship Between Civic Experiences and Psychosocial Well-Being for Underrepresented Students at UW-Madison

Category 2: Program Development Grant

Category 2: Well-Being Research Grant

This project will be administered through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s University Health Services (UHS), in partnership with Dr. Connie Flanagan in the School of Human Ecology’s (SoHE) Civil Society and Community Studies department, and aims to build upon the campus commitment established during the 2014 Civic Seminar at UW-Madison.

UHS has made a commitment to address the social determinants of health in an effort to advance health equity across campus and in the community at large. Insofar as educational attainment is one of the most effective public health interventions (Williams, Mohammed, Leavell & Collins, 2010), practices in college that support students’ psychosocial flourishing increase their retention and reduce risks of mental illness (Keyes, Dhingra, & Simoes, 2010). These are all aims that are in keeping with UW-Madison UHS’ mission “to enhance learning and student success by promoting, protecting, and restoring health and well-being.”

In addition, based on a literature review and exploratory case study of diversity and civic engagement on the UW-Madison campus (one that explored the experiences of non-majority students who participate in curricular or co-curricular experiences through a majority White, middle class institution), UHS identified social networks and civic engagement as some of the key determinants of student health. However, based on this pilot study, we believe that underrepresented students’ lack of social networks and intentional civic engagement opportunities may disproportionately and negatively impact their well-being while at UW-Madison.

Consequently, the objectives of this study are two-fold: first, to determine overall levels of well-being (or flourishing) for non-majority students on UW-Madison’s campus, as well as whether levels of well-being vary over time (i.e., from the start to the end of college); and second, to identify specific civic engagement and engaged learning opportunities that are related to an overall sense of flourishing for students of non-majority backgrounds. The undergraduate student participants for this study will be recruited in partnership with the Multicultural Student Center (MSC) at UW-Madison, with whom UHS has an existing partnership.

Given the AAC&U’s timeline for implementing this research project, a two-cohort, two-year longitudinal design will be utilized. Two separate cohorts of underrepresented college students will be recruited for the study in partnership with the MSC: First-year students at UW-Madison and those who are completing their second year of study. Each cohort of students (i.e., first year and second year students) will be surveyed at two different time periods: Spring 2016 (the end of their first or second years, respectively), and Spring 2017 (the end of their second or third years, respectively). The aim of this longitudinal design is to better understand the civic experiences and psychosocial well-being of underrepresented students on campus as they progress from the beginning of their academic studies toward the end of their time at UW-Madison. In an effort to better understand the constellation of civic and engaged learning experiences that non-majority students experience during their time on campus, the quantitative survey draws from standardized instruments and original items compiled by the Bringing Theory to Practice consortium institutions, addressing multiple dimensions of engaged learning, civic engagement, and student mental health and well-being in a single instrument (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015). The quantitative survey will be carried out using a free UW-Madison web-based survey administration tool, Qualtrics. Additionally, during fall 2017, students from both cohorts will be invited to participate in focus groups in order to gain rich qualitative data about the relationship among underrepresented students’ engaged learning, civic experiences, and psychosocial flourishing during their time on campus.

This proposed research project is intended to inform the work of UHS Prevention Services staff in order to build campus capacity to support the psychosocial flourishing of underrepresented students. It will guide the future design of curricular engaged learning opportunities and co-curricular civic experiences for non-majority students across campus. Results will be disseminated beyond the reach of UW-Madison through academic journals and professional conferences.