Researching and Strengthening Student Resilience on College Campuses

To derive full value from their college experiences, students must be equipped to handle the pressure and stress of college life. To help ensure that students are able to thrive, the Endowment has awarded $3.4 million in grants to support research and interventions through the Resiliency Project on four campuses in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Challenge

College is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. It also can be overwhelmingly stressful. In addition to the pressure of a competitive academic environment, many students also worry about the cost, about fitting into a new environment, or about family issues back home. While learning to manage stress is part of the experience, many students report extreme levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other conditions that negatively affect their overall wellness and ability to succeed and thrive. These challenges can increase for students who are among the first in their families to attend college or who have experienced trauma or mental health challenges before arriving on campus.

Response

In 2013, The Duke Endowment provided $3.4 million to the four institutions named in Mr. Duke’s Indenture of Trust – Davidson College, Duke University, Furman University, and Johnson C. Smith University – to intensively study the issue of student resilience on their campuses and to develop new interventions to test and refine.

The Resiliency Project began with data collection across all four campuses to better understand the causes of student stress, how stress manifests itself, what existing tools students possess to deal with stress and become resilient, and where interventions to improve resiliency are most needed. Using this data (which will be collected longitudinally from the Class of 2018 over four years) campus teams are designing and implementing new intervention ideas to help enhance resiliency. 

The Resiliency Project aims to increase knowledge about the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve resiliency, and to share that knowledge among the four campuses and beyond.

The Endowment believes the Resiliency Project will result in:

  • A more effective array of interventions and supports for students,
  • Scholarly findings that contribute to the higher education and mental health communities, and
  • Measurable enhancements in student resiliency and wellness on all four campuses

In the short term, the Endowment hopes to see increased collaboration across and within the four schools, as well as an increased understanding of student resilience and promising intervention ideas. ‚Äč

In addition to working within their own campuses, the four schools all contribute to shared data collection and analysis, have created joint studies and interventions, and regularly share findings and ideas. The Endowment has hosted Student Resiliency Symposia at its headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the 2016 Symposium, the four schools welcomed representatives from other colleges and universities across the country to share their own resiliency efforts and participate in shared learning.

Campus Highlights

In addition to taking part in shared data collection and analysis, researchers and practitioners on each campus are working to develop interventions that are tailored to their particular campus culture and needs.

Davidson College

Davidson is exploring several interventions, including:

  • A focus on pre-major academic advising
  • The use of therapy assisted online counseling, which launched in the fall of 2016
  • A “bounce break” during April, in which students can attend sessions on mindfulness, healthy eating, yoga, etc. One bounce break activity includes an “art cart” that students can play with to stimulate creative centers in the brain.

Davidson also is home to the Resiliency Project’s summer research program for students, hosting two undergraduates from each of the four campuses to explore specific aspects of resilience and well-being through individual and joint research projects. Students have studied a range of factors, from the effects of overuse of electronic devices to the impact of social rejection.

Duke University

Duke University’s interventions focus on creating quality relationships with adults on campus, which research shows is a positive predictor of academic engagement and success. Duke is also exploring the negative effects of the Greek rush system and exploring ways to change it.

Other areas of focus at Duke include:

  • A deep dive into mindfulness and meditation
  • A new “Duke Experience” undergrad curriculum for all first year students that will bring wellness attributes into early conversations
  • A new emphasis on encouraging students to use time management skills, via Duke’s Academic Resources Center.

Furman University

Furman has named its resiliency effort The Fourtitude Project (four universities, four years, for you). Furman was one of the first schools to monitor stress and resiliency issues surrounding Greek life on campus and is exploring interventions to mitigate the social stress that increases during rush season.

In addition, Furman’s research shows that academic stress has a greater influence on mental health over time than does social stress. In 2016, Furman used data collected from the Resiliency Project to create a pilot intervention that uses web-based tutorials and texting to give students skills to manage academic stress, such as goal-setting, “if-then” plans for obstacles, etc. 

Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU)

As the only Historically Black College and University among the Endowment’s higher education grantees, JCSU provides a valuable perspective to the project. 

Intervention activities at JCSU have included:

  • The Transitions Project, which helps entering students cope with stresses of college life, and with the stress associated with college cost in particular
  • Case management for male students, who typically are more concerned about confidentiality than female students
  • A book study and discussion series about civility, with a goal of helping freshmen develop a sense of social responsibility, self-compassion and optimism

In addition, JCSU is partnering with Furman to conduct a study of student physical health and resiliency. It also is conducting its own ongoing studies, including the relationship between technology use and sleep quality, and the impact of problematic internet use on school connectedness. 

Participating Sites

North Carolina

  • Davidson College, Davidson
  • Duke University, Durham
  • Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte

South Carolina

  • Furman University, Greenville

Details

Area of Work

  • Educational access and success

Program Area

  • Higher Education

Grantmaking Status

The Endowment is continuing to work through current grantees and is not accepting new applications.

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities