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Improving Student Success through Mindfulness: New Program Available to Member Campuses

January 31, 2017
Improving Student Success through Mindfulness

How many of the students with whom you work on your campus are stressed out, not getting enough sleep, or anxious about their future?  Does this state of mind lead them to unhealthy behaviors or negative self-impressions?  Do you see them procrastinating on their assignments, sleeping through class, or thinking that they will never get a job?  It is no secret that the emerging adults with whom we work benefit from interventions that help to manage stress, decrease anxiety, and improve wellness. 

VHEC is now offering a mindfulness program for emerging adults designed to provide the tools that will help students to take ownership of their own path and be more successful in school and in life.  Based on the theory of emerging adulthood as well as the ancient practices of mindfulness and meditation, this program has demonstrate positive results for students like yours, and we would love to partner with you to bring this four-week curriculum to your campus. 

Who are emerging adults? 

In 2000, Jeffrey Arnett identified what he considered to be a new developmental phase – the period from the late teens through the twenties that differed from current theoretical models of adolescence and young adulthood.  It was context and culture-specific, and especially relevant to cultures in which young people are allowed a “prolonged period of independent role exploration” (such as their college years).  He called this phase “emerging adulthood” and argued that changes in our society over the last fifty years or so have “altered the nature of development” for these young people – marriage and parenthood are delayed, and thus these young people may not be so quickly settling into a period of “adulthood” like prior theories had proposed.  Instead, they are taking a longer time and thus experience more frequent changes and heightened exploration.  For more, see Arnett’s Ted talk “Why does it take so long to grow up today?”

According to Arnett, it is typical for emerging adults to feel “in between” – not like a teenager, but also not fully an adult - and to be struggling with that feeling.  They are trying to understand their identity when it comes to “love, work, and worldviews.”  They face challenges like relationship navigation, sexual exploration, and partner choice that are different because marriage and parenthood can be and often are delayed.  Whereas a manufacturing economy funneled young people into jobs, a knowledge-based economy makes education choices and career exploration more complex.  Worldviews are being challenged, shaped, and reshaped by the intensity of a college learning and social community (though emerging adults who are not in college report similar belief-focused journeys).  In short, Arnett called emerging adulthood “an especially full and intense time of life.”

How do mindfulness practices help emerging adults?

Mindfulness is described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the skill of “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  The act of paying attention to your thoughts and actions in the moment when they are arising, without judging yourself, allows you to practice higher levels of awareness and self-compassion.  For emerging adults, who often feel judged by themselves and others, or feel like they are constantly needing to make big life decisions, this act of slowing down the racing mind can be essential.  It can help them to stop the train of reckless thought that leads to stress, anxiety, or social unease and instead move into their “observing mind” to ask “what is really happening here, and does it have to go this way?”  Through meditation, students learn to “flex their mindfulness muscles;” they practice paying attention to their thoughts, reactions, and emotions so that they can become better at doing so in their everyday lives.

The Koru Mindfulness program, designed at Duke University, is a direct response to the challenges and trends of emerging adults on campus.  Counselors noticed that students needed support in learning to manage their anxiety, recognize patterns of unhealthy thought and behavior, and focus more positively on the present moment.  In short, these students needed mindfulness and meditation practices that could help them to be healthier and happier, but those skills needed to be realistic to their lives as students and emerging adults. 

The Koru Center for Mindfulness studied the impact of its mindfulness programs on young adults through a randomized trial published in 2014.  Like many other mindfulness studies, they learned that the four-week program helped college students decrease perceived stress, improve sleep habits, increase mindfulness, and increase self-compassion.   

How is the Koru Program different from other mindfulness and meditation practices?

While the Koru program has evolved from other mindfulness curriculums such as the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction intervention, Koru is different in a few key ways. 

First, it is structured as an academic class much like other classes that students would take on campus.  Students register for the course, purchase and read a required text, meet on a weekly basis with a cohort of their peers (for 4 weeks), complete homework assignments (meditation practice), and get feedback from their instructor.  This is a familiar framework for them, and one that helps them to stick with the training more effectively than private counseling sessions or group drop-ins.  Taking this structure out of the counseling office and into places like academic support or residential learning communities also helps to dispel belief that students who benefit from mindfulness are somehow less capable than others or in need of psychological intervention.  It normalizes the experience.

Second, students are introduced to short, easy meditation practices and encouraged to try them for just 10-15 minutes a day.  Other MBSR programs rely on a daily practice of forty minutes or more, a feat that might be virtually unapproachable for college students who are constantly surrounded with opportunities or obligations to be busy or distracted. 

Third, Koru meets students where they are at – through technology.  Koru provides an app for students to track and submit their meditation practices and reflections, a unique tool that enables them to connect with mindfulness in the same way that they connect with other communications in their lives – through their phone.  They can connect with peers to create a sense of shared responsibility and reminders, and can receive virtually immediate feedback or reinforcement from their instructor.  The app and the Koru website offer free guided meditation recordings and videos so that students can always turn to guided lessons rather than having to practice meditation independently.

How can you bring Koru to your campus?

VHEC’s Executive Director, Carrie Williams Howe, has completed the initial training phase for the Koru Mindfulness program and can now offer the Koru curriculum to member campuses.  This four-week (75 minute class) curriculum can be offered at convenient times for your students, with all of the support of the Koru Mindfulness Center including registration processes, access to the app, and a fully developed curriculum.  Access to this program is offered through VHEC’s consulting services model; the four-class sequence is currently being offered at $600 plus cost of travel (if applicable). 

Contact Carrie today to discuss your interest.

VHEC Partners