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The Student Flourishing Initiative

During their college careers, between a quarter and a third of students will experience a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression. The Student Flourishing Initiative offers a credit-bearing course aimed at first-year students to explore academic underpinnings of well-being as well as develop a personal practice to cultivate their own mental health throughout college and beyond. 

Study Details

Center for Healthy Minds researchers, along with partners at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia, are creating and studying the impact of a well-being curriculum for college freshman. With the goal of instilling the knowledge and skills that enable students to cultivate a life filled with flourishing, the team is taking an interdisciplinary approach to leverage the challenges of the college transition into an experience that promotes growth and flourishing.

If fully funded, the six-year research project will study the impact of this course on 10,000 incoming college students, and outcomes will include short- and long-term measures of student success, health and well-being, as well as their capacity and desire to perform in their chosen field of study and to make contributions to society and the world.

Bringing together experts from diverse fields across the Sciences and the Humanities, the group is developing a large-scale academic course with a supporting digital platform and resources for incoming college students to nurture in them the wisdom and skills that will enable them to flourish in the face of the many challenges—such as chronic stress and anxiety—that come with the transition to their university experience. The course and platform is aimed at supporting students’ personal, intellectual, and professional success, engagement, and balance during and after their studies through innovations in experiential learning, digital technology, and “whole student” approaches.

By conducting rigorous research on the effects of this curricula, the initiative also has the opportunity to have a broad positive impact on student engagement, retention, well-being and long-term success by transforming the practice and policy of higher education for years to come.

The collaboration aims to:

• Assist students in developing an understanding of human flourishing and the science and philosophy behind this concept

• Help students cultivate the skills that lead to positive social engagement such as awareness, empathy and compassion for others

• Provide students with a supportive academic climate and set of experiential practices and activities that can help them to integrate the knowledge and skills of flourishing into their lives at the university and beyond.

This course will use a sophisticated “flipped classroom” format to allow students to access course lectures, videos, guided practices, and other content at their convenience via a sophisticated app that will also offer powerful tools for monitoring personal change and for gathering research data. Streamlined integration of a digital platform throughout this course will enable a large number of students to connect with on-demand short talks from leading content experts around the world. Furthermore, the larger resources and tools generated for the course will constitute an online learning platform for students to access and utilize throughout the course of their undergraduate years.

The research component of this project will be carefully coordinated between the three universities, who have been collaborating on this project since the summer of 2016. Students will be analyzed at the beginning and end of the course as well as for three years after its completion (through graduation). In the short-term, the study will look to see whether or not students continue to use these practical skills, and will also evaluate their academic success, social-emotional well-being, and development of character values. In the longer-term, the study will track students’ academic performance throughout their careers, as well as their career selection and success, civic engagement, relationship quality and health outcomes.

People Working on This Study

Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson
Department of Kinesiology, Watson Lab of Human Performance and Founder, YogAutism
Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Larissa G. Duncan
Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Healthy Minds, Elizabeth C. Davies Chair in Child & Family Well-Being, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
John D. Dunne
Core Faculty at the Center for Healthy Minds, Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities, Professor of Asian Languages & Cultures
Matthew Hirshberg
Matt Hirshberg
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Healthy Minds
Christy Wilson Mendenhall Bw
Christy Wilson-Mendenhall
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Healthy Minds

Media Related to this Project

Colleges Teach Students How to Think. Should They Also Teach Them How to Thrive?
Nov 04, 2018
Can the course titled "The Art and Science of Human Flourishing," developed jointly by University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison improve well-being in college students?
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