November 2017 newsletter
Learn how a program tied to Carleton College, St. Olaf College and The College of St. Scholastica helps students stay positive. And consider how our colleges and alums support vets with examples from Augsburg University, Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of St. Thomas. Then tackle the current debate around campus free speech with Saint John’s University President Dr. Michael Hemesath.
Feeling optimistic can feel next to impossible at times, including for college students. But students can learn how, in the face of all their challenges. A new project stemming from a Northfield, Minnesota partnership finds that students can be helped to build skills that can add up to greater resiliency and, yes, happiness.
This month a small group of Carleton students will conclude the latest round of the Happy Hour project, a non-credit course focused on learning about and taking advantage of some aspects of positive psychology; they’ve been meeting for an hour a week over 10 weeks of the fall term. The project had previously been tested in the Northfield area at several locations, including with St. Olaf College students. And it is now being put to use at The College of St. Scholastica as well.
Consider the Carleton student who used what she learned about optimism through the Happy Hour project to try to reframe her reactions to a difficult test this fall. As relayed by Janet Lewis Muth, Carleton’s director of health promotion, the student said that after a tough test, she stopped her self-criticism, applying some of what she had been learning about and discussing with her peers. Muth said the student realized she may have done okay and stopped beating herself up for the rest of the day, which in turn could allow her to keep moving ahead on all her other classes and assignments.
“It is important to be proactive, to help provide students with opportunities to develop skills that will serve them well here as well as when they go out in the world,” Muth said.
There’s growing concern about the amount of depression and anxiety among college students, Muth said. With colleges responding in several ways, including seeking to expand access to counseling resources, the Happy Hour project is an example of how prevention-focused efforts can be part of the mix.
Carleton-St. Olaf partnership
Positive psychology gained attention in the last 20 years as some in the field have looked to broaden the focus beyond what can go wrong, explained Donna McMillan, Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Olaf College. “This is the study of life going well and all that is involved in that,” she said.
Muth learned about positive psychology and saw it as the basis for creating a research-based program and curriculum aimed at helping people build skills to increase their resiliency. Working in the community and part of the Rice County Mental Health Collective, Muth was looking at ways to prevent or limit mental health problems. “Thinking about this from a public health model, we know we should exercise, eat our veggies,” she said. “But we were asking ourselves, ‘What does it mean to really promote mental health?’”
Seeking local expertise, Muth found McMillan, who teaches a course at St. Olaf on the science of positive psychology. McMillian’s contribution has included assessing the program’s impact — with the help of student research assistants.
The results that first year were positive. Students who went through Happy Hour took a pre- and post-program assessment, as did a control group of students who were not taking part. After their 10 weeks of learning about aspects of positive psychology, having the support of a cohort and being asked to try out the skills they were learning, McMillan said the participants demonstrated improved well-being. When compared to those in the control group, the participants reported more positive emotions, fewer negative emotions, fewer depression symptoms and higher levels of both optimism and gratitude.
The program continues to prove itself, including at Carleton where Muth now works. She and McMillan are watching for how well it succeeds in various settings and with different populations. There’s also awareness of the need for institutions to do what they can at an organizational level to address what can cause problems. “Teaching particular skills is one piece,” Muth said. “And creating an environment where people can practice them is the other. We need to ensure we’re working to remove barriers as institutions.”
St. Scholastica addresses resiliency
Starting this fall the Happy Hour project has migrated north to The College of St. Scholastica. It began with Julie Zaruba Fountaine, the college’s wellness coordinator, who went to a training this summer in Northfield that McMillan and Muth offered to help others become facilitators. Liking what she learned and thinking about how to augment existing efforts to build student resiliency, Zaruba Fountaine has found her campus receptive. Students she works with as peer health educators have been going through the Happy Hour program themselves. A faculty member is bringing the Happy Hour project into her first-year seminar next semester, given the student needs she’s seeing. And a 10-week session for staff and faculty filled up before it was even publicly posted.
And in a new twist, Zaruba Fountaine is working with the online education experts at St. Scholastica to create an interactive online option to share Happy Hour with more nontraditional students. Set to be available in 2018, it’s an experiment that McMillan and Muth will be watching closely, since it uses a different technique to help students build these skills.
This comes at a time at a time when demand for campus mental health services is on the rise, as shown by patterns of usage, waiting lists and student surveys, Zaruba Fountaine said. Faculty members are also reporting more related concerns about student behavior and questions about how to respond. “If they have a student who says, ‘I’m not coming into class because I need a mental health day,’ they don’t know what to do,” she said. “What does the follow-up conversation look like? Or in the course, if a student is not able to receive a constructive critique and they have an emotional response, the faculty members aren’t sure how to respond.”
The aim is to find new ways to help students’ mental wellbeing, in addition to the existing supports and resources that extend from resource centers to residential hall staff to on-campus counseling. While Zaruba Fountaine said that Happy Hour skill-building won’t address the need for supports for students with depression and mental health crises, it can translate into some students being better able to cope with the challenges they face.
“To focus on our mental wellbeing is just as important as our physical wellbeing — it is part of taking care of your health,” Zaruba Fountaine. “These skills are just like eating a banana at breakfast or doing meditation, it is part of taking care of your body and mind.”
But just like any health promotion effort, there’s the challenge of building awareness and building knowledge early enough — when students will insist they’re fine and don’t seem to have a worry in the world. “And then, all of a sudden, they can’t sleep and they’re not going to class,” Zaruba Fountaine said. “So how do we pre-emptively address these issues so students can keep swimming along and don’t end up in that mental health crisis?”
By John Manning
Minnesota Private Colleges are proud to serve veterans — helping them build on what they have learned while protecting our country. Here are excerpts of some stories from two of our colleges about supporting these students, and we have a story of the impact for vets of an alum’s efforts to fight homelessness.
- University of Saint Thomas’ new Veteran Resource Center
- Gustavus Adolphus College alum working to end veteran homelessness
- How Augsburg University supports veterans
Many things happened at and around St. Thomas on March 17, 2017. None of them may have been as consequential, though, for the future of the university as the meeting between President Julie Sullivan, some faculty members and five student veterans of the St. Thomas Veterans’ Association.
Senior Peter Watson was the club president and helped develop the plan presented to Sullivan that day for more veteran-friendly services, which centered around creating a physical space on campus dedicated to veterans.
“I asked them to come back with a larger proposal that would support our aspiration of becoming the most veteran-friendly campus in the upper Midwest,” Sullivan said. “I was delighted with the proposal they returned with, and their ideas shaped our creation of the Veteran’s Resource Center.”
Those ideas are now a reality as the Veteran’s Resource Center (VRC) celebrated its grand opening on Nov. 10, the day before Veteran’s Day. With its founding director, Norman Ferguson, on board and a dedicated group of veteran students helping push things forward, the promise and excitement around what the center can be for St. Thomas and its students is huge.
Today, through Cathy ten Broeke’s leadership of the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, the number of homeless persons in Minnesota has decreased 7 percent statewide and 20 percent among families with children since 2014. These reductions among families with children are among the most significant decreases in the U.S.
In March, the federal government confirmed that homelessness among veterans has been eradicated in southwest Minnesota . . . Northeastern Minnesota, central Minnesota, and Ramsey County are very close as well. There are 242 homeless vets remaining in Minnesota. Ten Broeke hopes to have their housing ready by Christmas, about the time the State’s 2018-2020 plan to prevent and end homelessness will be unveiled.
An updated plan is necessary because there are still more than 7,400 homeless Minnesotans who are not veterans. Most are children and parents, some have chronic health issues, and at least 1000 are young people who are homeless without a parent.
“I think about that long arc of history—each of us has a role somewhere on that path. It doesn’t mean we have to carry the ball the whole way. I am only one piece of a very big movement. This is a relay—a justice relay—and the last mile is always the hardest.
“But I firmly believe that we can end homelessness, and that we very well may during my lifetime. And I’m going to keep trying to work my way out of a job.”
Many of Augsburg’s students with military experience enroll in an undergraduate or graduate degree program to build upon the education and training that were part of their military service. For other students, Augsburg is a way to prepare for a civilian career that’s unlike any past duties.
Some students who have served in the armed forces are eligible for state and federal financial aid assistance to help pay for college. At Augsburg, more than 100 students with military experience are working one-on-one with the College’s Student Financial Services and Registrar’s offices to successfully claim their education benefits and get individualized help navigating complex eligibility rules.
Augsburg also directly supports these students by hosting an on-campus space for them to meet and by employing a Student Veteran Liaison who mentors peers and works to connect students with College resources.
“We’re seeing more nontraditional-age students in our undergrad population and some of those people have been around the world and have served our country,” said Lori York, assistant registrar and Veterans Affairs certifying official. “A veteran’s sense of ‘a call to serve’ totally meshes with Augsburg, and we want to make sure they can make the most of their education here.”
Efforts at The College of St. Scholastica as well as Augsburg University were featured in an earlier newsletter article. We also have a simple handout highlighting how our colleges can be a good option for vets, including links for more information at each institution.
Colleges across the country have been faced with a new challenge — the issue of free speech on campus. How do colleges ensure the safety of students while allowing deep, sometimes difficult, conversations to happen? Saint John’s University President Dr. Michael Hemesath shared his thoughts on free speech.
Why is free speech important on college campuses?
“Free speech is foundational for an educational institution. Higher education is all about the free exchange of ideas in search of truth. The notion that we should limit that exploration in any way cuts to the very core of who we are as institutions. We should be constantly testing the notion of what is true, and we especially need to test it in the academy among professional academics. But at least as importantly, we have millions of young students entering our institutions every year who need to be introduced to critical thinking skills and ways to exchange opposing ideas in a civil, respectful, and engaging manner.”
How should free speech and safety be balanced on college campuses?
“Students who are coming onto college campuses to participate in learning through the free exchange of ideas need to be ready to be uncomfortable. College is not an intellectually safe space. It’s a space where you should feel intellectually uncomfortable and intellectually challenged. But at the same time, as academic professionals, we absolutely need to provide a physically safe space in which these potentially uncomfortable intellectual exchanges can occur.”
Have you felt this tension on your campus?
“Yes, I have felt it on campus at times. These tensions sometimes come up outside of thoughtful discussions when it is hard to engage civilly and respectfully. We must not limit the ideas people might express, but we do hope discussions can take place in a civil manner. We need to encourage students to think about how their ideas will be heard by the audience they are trying to engage. If they truly want to have civil discourse around a specific topic, they need to be thoughtful about how, when and where they present their ideas.”
What points are often missed in this discussion?
“Public support for higher education has weakened in the past decade, and this is in part because of these issues of free speech. We can name institutions across the country, like the University of Missouri, Middlebury and Berkeley, who have had free speech issues on campus. Luckily we haven’t had this happen in such dramatic ways in Minnesota, but we still have a continued responsibility to protect free inquiry and the search for truth. The public looks to the academy to be a source of testing new ideas and challenging old assumptions. If that doesn’t exist in the academy, where will it exist? We have a responsibility to the public to protect free speech and academic freedom.”
How has the nature of free speech on campus changed over time?
“The external political environment over the past decade has become more contentious, and this change has made it harder to have civil discussion about certain issues. Individuals on both sides of the political divide seem more likely to be interested in making a harsh political point than in the past. There seems to be more talking within groups than talking across groups, and social media is certainly not helping encourage civility. This is why higher education’s mission to encourage and protect the free exchange of ideas and free speech is especially important.”
Minnesota continues to be a “net exporter” of undergraduate students. Although 8,870 first-time students from other states chose to attend college in Minnesota in fall 2016, 14,965 Minnesota residents enrolled out of state — a net loss of 6,095 students, representing the biggest gap in the last decade. Among four-year institutions, our member colleges enrolled the most first-time students from out-of-state. View the full student migration report.
|Minnesota Private Colleges*||2,678|
|University of Minnesota system||2,134|
|Minnesota State Universities||1,672|
Source: IPEDS Residence and Migration data, Fall 2016
*The Minnesota Private College Council’s 17 member institutions
Bethel physics and engineering space expanded and renovated
A renovation and expansion of Bethel University’s physics and engineering space puts science on display and highlights one of Bethel’s largest and most renowned departments.
Saint Benedict graduate wants to change narrative of how city, state describe themselves to others
Brenda Kyle, College of Saint Benedict class of 1986, began new job as president and CEO of Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 1.
Saint John’s Abbey and University announce completion of largest capital campaign in history
Forward Ever Forward: The Campaign for Saint John’s exceeded its goal of $160 million by raising $188 million to support the future of Saint John’s University.
Saint Mary's partners with Sanneh Foundation
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota Graduate School of Education is partnering with the Sanneh Foundation to provide licensure pathways for Dreamline coaches in the areas of special education and ESL.
St. Kate's professor receives prestigious Lindy Boggs Award
Karen Sames, St. Catherine University occupational therapy professor, is the 2018 Lindy Boggs Award winner. The award recognizes those who advance OT in the political realm.
From liberal arts to making a living
The Chronicle of Higher Education featured Carleton College’s scholars career center program, which helped Tianna Avery ’19 rethink her plans for medical school.
Hamline teaches innovation
New course gives Hamline University undergraduates the opportunity to learn the innovation process thanks to Roger Appeldorn ’57, a renowned innovator at 3M with 35 patents to his name.
Stoll named one of top ten separation scientists worldwide
Gustavus Adolphus College chemistry professor Dwight Stoll is the only liberal arts college researcher out of 100 scientists honored by The Analytical Scientist.
New veteran’s resource center opens at St. Thomas
The University of St. Thomas aspires to become the most veteran-friendly campus in the upper Midwest.
Augsburg celebrates a season of hope with advent vespers
Augsburg University ushers in the Advent and Christmas seasons with Advent Vespers, a magnificent experience of music and liturgy, in celebration of the Incarnation.
When internships don’t pay, some colleges, like Macalester, will
Dean Mindy Deardurff of the Career Development Center was quoted and Macalester College mentioned in the “Education Life” section of the Sunday New York Times.
2017 holiday event schedule released
Many of our member colleges hold holiday concerts, theater performances and even an art sale that are open to the public. Check out our list and make plans to attend.
Free posters available from Council
The Council has created an infographic poster highlighting key facts about Minnesota Private Colleges as well as a poster showing all the undergraduate majors, minors and concentrations our institutions offer.
New graduation report on transfer and part-time students released
The Council analyzed new federal data on the six-year graduation rates for transfer students and students who enter part-time. The report also includes metrics for students who remain at their institution after eight years without a degree, as well as students who transferred out of an institution between 2008 and 2016.
How much does the government really need to know about college students in America?
The Atlantic, Oct. 24, 2017
A highways project for college completion
Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 25, 2017
Using social psychology to help first-generation and low-income students through college
The Brookings Institution, Oct. 26, 2017
Tax reform: College endowment penalty is shortsighted
Star Tribune, Nov. 6, 2017
Six myths about choosing a college major
The New York Times, Nov. 3, 2017
Higher ed in the Senate tax bill
Inside Higher Ed, Nov 10, 2017