Friday, August 3, 2012

The Stanford Resilience Project

I recently returned from International Conference on the First-Year Experience, sponsored by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition.  Of all the conferences I attend each year, it is slowly becoming my favorite because of the sense of collegiality I feel there and the diverse range of perspectives represented by the international delegates who attend.

One of the very best sessions I attended at the conference was a presentation by Adina Glickman, from Stanford University's Center for Teaching and Learning, on the Stanford Resilience Project.  In a nutshell, Glickman and her colleagues have started an initiative to collect, share, and celebrate stories of resilience from faculty, administrators, and students at Stanford.  Glickman explained in her presentation that they felt something like this was particularly useful at an institution like Stanford where many first-year students may arrive having never experienced significant disappointments, rejections, or failures.  The project was conceived as a way to (a) introduce new students to the concept of resilience and its importance in our lives and (b) to provide a resource that students can turn to when they encounter experiences where a dose of resilience would be helpful (e.g. that first term paper, rejection letter from a limited enrollment program, etc.).

The genius in the project is that the initial objective has been to record a number of these stories and make them available to students.  Fifteen of these stories are available for anyone to view at the project's homepage and more will become available in the coming months.  If you have a few minutes, watch a few of them and consider how hearing these types of stories might benefit students on your own campus.  Particularly noteworthy is the fact that 14 of the 15 stories featured by Stanford come from well-respected faculty members, administrators, and a wildly successful alumnus (Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora). These are individuals who students may mistakenly believe have never struggled.  Imagine the impact upon a struggling student who, in the midst of their "Woe is me, I'll never make it here, I'm the only one who doesn't get it" line of thinking, views one of these videos.  Glickman shared stories in her presentation of students whose experience at Stanford has been transformed as a result of their interaction with the site and involvement with the project.  Future plans include the ability for students to submit their own stories to the project site as well as a database of stories which can be searched using key words.

There are four core values or messages which the project is founded upon

  • Get perspective
  • Learn about learning
  • Seek Advice
  • Connect w/ Community
I can't think of any other set of messages that might be more important for a campus to convey to their new students.  Those of us who work with this population would do well to consider how we might use Stanford's work, or better yet, collect and share stories on our own campuses.  I can think of at least two times during the first year when these sorts of stories would have power.

First, at New Student Convocation university administrators and other campus leaders could share stories of resilience as a form of role induction.  Embedded in these stories would be messages about what students should expect from their experience, including challenges, support resources, and the potential for transformative growth.  The concept of role induction comes from the field of psychotherapy and refers to the idea that clients should be prepared for what will happen in therapy.  Typically, this occurs in the first session with a therapist or in some sort of pretherapy preparation.  While a very simple concept and requiring very little time on the part of therapists, it has been shown to significantly decrease attrition and drop-out from within therapeutic alliances.  This same sort of thing should be happening in new student orientation programming and convocation seems like a great venue.  

Second, as much as a campus may try to be proactive in conveying messages of resilience to students on the front-end of their experience, there will inevitably be times when students will need to hear these sorts of stories again.  While that time will vary across each individual student, campuses could be strategic by coordinating some kind of second semester programming where students are brought together to reflect on their first semester experiences and consider how resilience might apply.  This timing would ensure that students have received their first semester grades and have an opportunity to be part of a campus-wide dialogue regarding lessons learned, obstacles overcome, and positive changes that can be made in the coming months.  

Thanks to Adina Glickman and Stanford's Center for Teaching and Learning for doing such great work.

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