Student Flourishing Initiative
David Germano, director of the University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center offers his thoughts on the center and its progress in the year since it was formed.
Flourishing Students & Engaged Citizenry
Higher education is intended to prepare our students to have rich and meaningful personal and professional lives and to equip them for the challenges of engaged citizenship. Yet, our universities largely separate student academic development from personal growth. Moreover, today’s college students are faced with increasing stresses over finances, academics, social pressures, and future careers, leading to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and poor performance. The Student Flourishing Initiative seeks to empower students of all backgrounds to engage with human flourishing through the intellectual and practical study of approaches from the sciences, arts and humanities, while simultaneously exploring and developing their own values and capacities through powerful experiential practices. Through SFI’s educational experience, students will develop the knowledge and skills to lead more engaged, healthy, and successful lives in civic, professional, and personal ways.
Partnering Across Divides
Leading teachers, scientists, and scholars from three major public universities — the Pennsylvania State University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — have come together for the Student Flourishing Initiative, a project whose mission is to help students flourish by empowering them with knowledge and practices for navigating their lives in college and beyond.
A Student-focused Model of Human Flourishing
Integrating Wisdom & Technology
Central to this mission is a new first-year course called "The Art and Science of Human Flourishing" and a broader digital platform of resources and tools launched in the fall of 2017. Designed to assist students in attaining holistic wellbeing, deeper awareness, and a strong foundation for success, the course and platform will be uniquely experiential, combining personal practices and transdisciplinary curricula which span the arts, sciences, and humanities. By cultivating greater awareness, compassion, and insight, students will develop the skills, understanding, and resiliency to thrive.
Because technology is a crucial part of students’ lives, and to allow for large, scalable enrollments, the course will use a “flipped” format, where content and assessments are accessed through mobile tools. The tools, including an innovative app and repository, will provide access to teachings and practices derived from neuroscience, psychology, humanistic reflection, and artistic expression. Each week, students will learn from readings, lectures, videos, guided practices, and other resources covering a single quality. Class time will be reserved for interactive exchanges and exercises in a workshop environment designed to stimulate experiences and conversations revolving around that week’s quality.
This creative initiative will also be grounded in a world-class research study with exponential impact. Top scientists and scholars from the three universities will explore the effects of this course on over 5,000 incoming college students from diverse backgrounds. Students–both those taking the course and a control group–will be assessed during their first year at college as well as longitudinally on a variety of measures, including academics, relationship quality, health outcomes, civic engagement, and other areas. Researchers will analyze the impact of these ideas, practices, and experiences on student flourishing.
Investing in Student Flourishing
The Student Flourishing Initiative is now seeking to secure funding for the development and implementation of this course, the broader platform, and its expansive research program. Investment in this project will not only ensure that students experience this revolutionary curriculum, but will facilitate major research findings that could transform the practice of higher education globally. We envision scaling the digital platform with broad dissemination to US and global universities.
An Extraordinary Collaboration
The Pennsylvania State University
Mark Greenberg, Ph.D. • Bennett Chair in Prevention Research
Robert Roeser, Ph.D., MSW • Bennett Pierce Professor of Care, Compassion, and Human Development
University of Virginia
Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, Ph.D. • Associate Professor, Curry School of Education
David Germano, Ph.D. • Professor of Buddhist Studies • Executive Director, Contemplative Sciences Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. • William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry • Founder, Center for Healthy Minds
John D. Dunne, Ph.D. • Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities, Center for Healthy Minds
View the UVA course: The Art and Science of Human Flourishing
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