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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - September 2019

By Eric Bender

Teaching and Learning

STEPS TO LEAPS focuses on student well-being

Purdue is rolling out a new program to bolster our students' resilience and help them succeed.

The program, called STEPS TO LEAPS, incorporates content designed by students for students and is caged in a research-based framework. It offers self-assessment, goal setting, action planning, worksheets, short motivational videos and more. STEPS TO LEAPS also will engage faculty who conduct related research to assess and inform future iterations of the program.

Several factors have converged to lead to this moment, said Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life: “First, we have spent the last year or so learning about the current generation of students and how Generation Z is engaging with Purdue.” These students tend to be high-achieving and desire to make a significant impact on the world, but as a result tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves. This has led to upticks in demand for services such as CAPS (Counseling and Professional Services) to help with coping skills.

"President Mitch Daniels also has challenged us to help our students become more resilient, and the Provost’s Road Map for Transformative Undergraduate Education calls upon us to maximize the impact of our residential campus on the growth and success of our students," she said. So, STEPS TO LEAPS is another key element of the Road Map.

STEPS TO LEAPS is a holistic program focused on the core aspects of enhancing and improving well-being and overall professional skills. It aligns with the work of existing Purdue programs, such as the Leadership and Professional Development Initiative and Maximizing Student Potential, while incorporating new strategies to support students. Growth Mindset for College Students, developed at Stanford University, also was incorporated into Boiler Gold Rush this year as a way to help students focus on their ability to frame their learning positively.

"Purdue faculty set a high bar and challenge our students intellectually," said Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning "Students who attribute challenge, uncertainty and initial failures to a lack of innate ability can feel that they don’t belong and fear that they can’t 'hack it.' This mindset can lead to destructive stress and withdrawal. Students who believe that the challenge is surmountable by effort and growth, are more likely to utilize the academic resources available to them and meet the challenge. They become stronger; they flex their creativity and seek more intellectual risks.”

STEPS TO LEAPS provides support academically, psychologically and socially.

"Our content areas, or pillars, are a broad representation of life skills that everybody can tap into and refine for themselves," McCuskey said. "We have approached our model with the understanding that every Purdue student has enormous capacity and talent, and through engaging in these topics, can grow even more."

STEPS TO LEAPS has five content areas, called pillars, built around research about resilience and feedback from students.

  • Well-Being — Learn strategies to improve your own well-being with steps to security, health and prosperity.
  • Leadership and Professional Development — Learn how to tap into one's own strengths and take initiative, offering guidance and direction.
  • Impact — Learn the importance of creating an impact through everyday actions with steps to influence others.
  • Networks — Actively build connections and bonds with others who can be tapped for ideas, information and support.
  • Grit — Learn how to overcome challenges, build resolve and bolster character.

The program also directs students to the wealth of resources available through the Office of the Dean of Students.

"Faculty and staff can play a major role in supporting student development under the pillars," Rickus said. "For example, growth mindset interventions are most effective when students perceive and trust that their instructors also believe that they can meet the expectations through effective study habits and hard work."

The program taps into the strengths and talents of the broad Purdue community. Faculty with a research interest in these topics will be invited to join a research community of practice focused on furthering our understanding of well-being and resilience. Faculty across many disciplines are already engaged, including those in communications, engineering, chemistry, and hotel/tourism management. For example, a visiting professor in the Department of Chemistry is developing a framework to incorporate some of these concepts into the training for teaching assistants.

In the Department of Psychological Sciences, Associate Professor Louis Tay is focused on developing the research and assessment framework for the STEPS TO LEAPS program. A well-being and assessment expert, Tay is aligning the pillars with scientific research. The goals are to find ways to make the program even more successful by upholding measurement standards and providing guidance for all Purdue departments and units interested in fostering and assessing resilience.

"When assessing the pillar well-being, we will be able to use well-validated measures that research has shown to be reliable and valid," Tay said. "We can adapt or utilize core measures based on scientific research and reference other large scale college surveys as benchmarks."

Part of Tay's charge is to meet with stakeholders, the staff and faculty who are interested in enhancing student resilience, growth mindsets and well-being. He seeks to create a network of Purdue researchers who are interested in partnering to use collected data for research, intervention development and evaluation. This can also serve as a stepping stone for collaborative grants aimed at promoting student resilience. The goal is to put Purdue on the map as a leader in the science of college student resilience and well-being.

Student groups will be integral to the branded rollout, which will take advantage of a wide range of communication vehicles, even video terminals and a #hashtag campaign. Resident advisors and student groups, such as the Purdue Student Government, are actively engaged.

"This peer-to-peer deployment is expected to engage students at a very personal and deep level." McCuskey said. "Conversations about failure, for example, can be very robust among students who help each other through challenging times."

Purdue's program is unique in that it was developed by undergraduate students with the guidance of professional staff. The program also is different from that at other universities where students may arrive without a firm foundation, she said. Instead of responding from a deficit mindset, STEPS TO LEAPS assumes Purdue students have the backgrounds to be successful and the University primarily has to foster their strengths.

McCuskey's other message to faculty and staff is that if they are worried about a student, send them to the Office of the Dean of Students.

Under the leadership of Katherine Sermersheim, associate vice provost and dean of students, the office offers assistance to students on a drop-in basis. This enables students to make an immediate connection with a professional staff member to talk through a particular challenge.

“We have found that many students need help coping with a particular concern, and simply talking it through can be of great benefit," Sermersheim said. "We also just hired a financial wellness expert and are developing more programming to help students develop financial literacy."

To contact the Office of the Dean of Students, call 765-494-1747or drop into Schleman Hall, Room 207.

For more information about STEPS TO LEAPS visit their website.

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