Student Spotlight: Nia Augustine, Class of 2021
Stay informed about the activities, programming, and classes offered and supported by the Contemplative Sciences Center!
By Kimberly Vo, Class of 2022
Nia Augustine, a first-generation college student and intern with the Contemplative Sciences Center, graduates this week with a degree in Kinesiology from UVA’s School of Education and Human Development. Through her work on behalf of CSC and as president of the wellness student group Mind&Body@UVA, Nia has helped to build a community of university students who support and encourage a contemplative lifestyle and mental well-being. Following graduation Nia plans to obtain a Masters degree in Public Health and to pursue a position in hospital administration. Her ultimate goal is to help break down barriers to healthcare for minority populations. I sat down with Nia to ask how her experience with CSC shaped her time at UVA, her daily habits, and her professional aspirations.
Your first exposure to contemplation and CSC was through the academic course “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing.” What drew you to take that course during your first semester as an undergraduate?
Initially, I was against taking the course. I came to college very pre-med, and I told myself I only needed to take biology and chemistry classes. Anything that did not have to do with that, I did not need to take. However, contrary to my belief, my advisor in the office of African American affairs suggested that I take the class. My advisor thought it would introduce a new perspective to me. Being a first-generation college student, I was all about learning new things and exploring academia, but also about the broader aspect of my college experience. I believe that this class allowed me to do that. It offered tools to help me handle stresses and showed me the importance of being interconnected in your community, staying involved, and having compassionate and empathetic conversations.
What was your biggest takeaway from the course?
I learned a lot about self-awareness and the importance of listening to your body. The course also taught me about meditation and yoga, as well as about other tools you can use to get through the stresses of being a college student. I felt like those were very practical for me. When I go to the activities fair and student orientations, the one thing I always tell students is if there is one thing that you do at UVA, take “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing.” You will get so many gems.
How did the course affect the rest of your academic and personal experiences at UVA?
I think that the course taught me the importance of striving for balance, even though I don’t believe balance is fully obtainable. The course made me aware that you should not solely focus on biology/chemistry or your specific major, but you should also look for ways to develop as an individual. I feel like that’s what all the classes offered at CSC taught me. They allowed me growth outside of the classroom, spiritually and mentally, and to me, that is something that will forever go with me. I know some people take classes for their jobs, and the classes never actually teach them anything practical for their jobs. The classes at CSC are different. They actually give you the tools needed to strive for overall mental well-being, including meditation, tai chi, qigong, yoga, journaling, and affirmations. I don’t know if my UVA experience would have been as enjoyable if I hadn’t known about the tools that that one class taught me and my involvement with CSC led me to experience.
How has your exposure to contemplative practices through CSC influenced your career goals?
I think my involvement with CSC taught me the importance of pausing and asking myself why I’m doing certain things. Specifically: How are my career and decisions contributing to the greater good of society? I thought about that question a lot. I meditated on that question, and I had affirmations about that question. Overall it led me to the conclusion that I want to be able to improve how underrepresented communities receive access to quality healthcare and high-value care. Through my mindfulness practices I was able to apply compassion not only to myself but to the people in the system on all sides. For example, within the past year, the pandemic has revealed the many cracks in our healthcare system, and it’s so easy to be mad at everyone for not speaking up. My contemplative practice has shown me the importance of having compassion and empathy for the people who are avidly in the system as well as for those exposed to the system. It’s easy to pass the blame on people—mindfulness/contemplative practice has shown me the importance of pausing and giving compassion even when you don’t want to. Only with compassion will we be able to find the root cause and come up with effective solutions.
Are there specific skills acquired through your work with CSC and MindBody@UVA that you think will help you flourish in graduate school and professionally?
My work with CSC has given me the skills to collaborate with a diverse group of people on multiple projects to obtain shared goals. For CSC the goal was promoting mental health and well-being, and for my job, it is to reimagine how healthcare is going to be delivered. My leadership role at Mind&Body@UVA showed me the importance of leading with compassion and leading with empathy. That is something that I want to employ in my graduate program, but also when I start doing the work that I want to do in healthcare management.
What do you think are the biggest impediments to students flourishing in college?
I think one thing is not knowing the resources that are available to you when you most need them. For me and a lot of friends who are also first-generation, we often feel lost because we are not very familiar with the environment and how to get the resources to succeed. Another thing is the competition culture at UVA. I know that people say that “the students feed into the competition culture,” which is very true. It is toxic. We do feed into it. However, I think when you employ contemplative practices to that toxicity, you have that moment to pause and think: Do I avidly want to add to this culture, or do I want to take a different approach and treat people with compassion, integrity, and the respect they deserve?
What advice would you give to incoming UVA first-years?
Take advantage of resources that CSC and UVA offer. Take “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing” class, and take the free yoga classes through CSC and IM-Rec. Also check out MindBoday@UVA on Instagram and get connected to a community of people who value mental health and well-being. It is an amazing group of guys and gals who talk about wellness and other topics, so there is a good balance. I would also recommend taking a class in the religious studies department—you will learn so much about contemplative practices and life in general. I think that’s what college is all about. It’s just about learning and immersing yourself in diverse thoughts and practices.