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Steps to Leaps Inaugural Semester a Success

Students gather for a photo during the inaugural Steps to Leaps Student launch.

Purdue’s Steps to Leaps initiative that launched in the fall 2019 semester is even more valuable for students now as they navigate the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Steps to Leaps is a campus-wide program geared toward bolstering student success. The initiative focused on student resiliency and well-being is co-led by Dr. Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life, and Dr. Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning, under the care and direction of the Office of the Provost. Steps to Leaps is aligned with long-term University goals under the Provost Road Map for Transformative Undergraduate Education.

“President Mitch Daniels 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 on our residential campus on the growth and success of our students,” said McCuskey.

As a collaborative effort, Steps to Leaps was created by staff along with students to foster lifelong habits and promote a growth mindset in the areas of well-being, leadership, impact, network building and grit. Steps to Leaps offers goal setting, action planning, worksheets, short motivational videos and more for self-assessment or facilitator-led assessments to help students celebrate their strengths while learning paths to improvement.

Director of Residential Education Carl Krieger assists with content development and student staff outreach. Krieger said, “I was pleasantly surprised at the excitement that was around Steps to Leaps in the first semester. Both students and staff have been excited about nearly every aspect. They understand the purpose of Steps to Leaps—to align us all around a language that points us in the direction of supporting our students in the best possible ways and to help them find the resources they need to be the best possible selves they can be.”

Grounded in the unique attributes represented by Generation Z, Steps to Leaps provides students with tools, resources and support to help them realize their personal definitions of success.

Steps to Leaps content areas, or pillars, are broad representations of life-skills that everybody can tap into and refine for themselves,” McCuskey said. “Purdue has approached the model with the understanding that every student has enormous capacity and talent, and through engaging in the pillar topics and modules, can grow even more.”

Director of Leadership Programs Stephanie Knight assists with content development and works with student interns to create the messaging around Steps to Leaps. Knight said, “The inaugural semester was really exciting because we spent last summer looking at what Steps to Leaps could be, then we launched it with students, faculty and staff. People have really latched onto the overall concept and have wanted to be involved. We had many people come forward who are either doing great work already within these areas or who are making an intentional effort to become involved moving forward.”

Steps to Leaps taps into the strengths and talents of the broad Purdue community.

Faculty with research interests related to the five pillars are invited to join a research community focused on furthering the understanding of well-being and resilience. Dr. Louis Tay, associate professor of psychological sciences, at Purdue focuses 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 and providing guidance for all Purdue departments and units interested in fostering and assessing resilience and well-being. Among many, one of the goals is to lead the assessment of the key concepts that other universities can leverage, learn and eventually utilize.

“We are moving toward tracking where Purdue students stand on well-being and resilience,” said Tay. “In terms of promoting well-being, Dr. Kim Plake from Pharmacy is leading an effort to build and test a Purdue-based mobile app that delivers positive psychology interventions to students, and in terms of pedagogy, I will be teaching a new course in Fall 2020 ‘Beyond Mental Health: The Science of Well-Being.’

Dr. Angela Duckworth, a world-renowned researcher and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, will share her insights on passion and perseverance in a talk scheduled at Purdue in fall 2020.

Amanda Mayes Leads Steps to Leaps Lunch & LearnA monthly Steps to Leaps Lunch and Learn series runs through April. On January 23, Director of Orientation Programs for Student Success Craig Johnson made a presentation on Growth Mindset and PERTS (Project for Education Research that Scales). Last year, PERTS modules and the concept of growth mindset were made part of students’ Boiler Gold Rush experience. Growth Mindset for College Students is an evidence-based program designed to increase college students’ academic motivation, resilience and achievement. PERTS is an applied research center at Stanford University that helps educators apply evidence-based strategies in order to advance educational excellence and equity on a large scale.

The Lunch and Learn series was well-received during the fall 2019 semester. Krieger said, “People had been looking for a conversation like those we had in the Lunch and Learn series. The conversations were deep, thoughtful and all about care. We talked about how the Steps to Leaps concepts can be aligned on campus. On the student side, when I worked with them to develop the initial modules, I could see that they were excited to be involved in something like this. They wanted to give back to their peers.”

During the spring 2020 semester, a group of eight student interns have been developing more modules for the Steps to Leaps program and sharing the initiative with students across campus. Knight said, “We want the student interns to share Steps to Leaps on a student-to-student approach. Steps to Leaps came about in part because we found that students were not aware of the resources available on campus. Purdue already does great things providing services for students. We need to make sure a student knows what they need when they need it. I’m looking forward to helping the intern team take Steps to Leaps out on the road.” 

Though the format of staff Lunch and Learns has been challenged due to social distancing recommendations in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, these events have been continued via WebEX, a video conferencing and online meeting platform. Discussion topics have been modified to share and discuss the latest ways Steps to Leaps can be used to provide resources for students as they learn remotely.