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James Madison University’s REBOUND program offers students support in bouncing back from hardships.

Just because you’re down, that doesn’t mean you’re knocked out. Or at least, that’s what REBOUND program mentors say.  

James Madison University launched REBOUND in 2019, a student support service focused on the ideas of resiliency and coming back from hardship. Program coordinator Matthew Hunsberger defines it as “a program to normalize setbacks.”

“Inevitably, students experience a setback of some kind while they’re in college, whether that be academic in nature, mental health or physical setback, whatever,” Hunsberger explains. “And those can really catch us off guard and can be upsetting. The idea is to normalize that through storytelling and mentoring.”

Over the years, the program has changed with different leadership and student needs, but REBOUND has two primary features: an eight-week resiliency curriculum delivered one-on-one or in a small group as well as a platform for sharing stories of overcoming hardship in video, essay or podcast format.

Open for a rebound: The program was originally developed by Josh Bacon, former JMU dean of students, and Brad Jenkins, general manager and adviser of the student newspaper, as reported by The Breeze.

“I struggled during my time in college and always thought, ‘What would have changed a punk like me back in the day?’” Bacon says.

REBOUND officially launched in August 2019, but Bacon completed pilots of the program prior, he says. Jenkins helped find students for the REBOUND videos and edited them, while Bacon supervised the program until his retirement in 2022.

Students are often hesitant to share when they’re struggling, especially in the context of social media portraying only the highlights of a person’s life, Bacon says. “Students think they are the only ones struggling, and that leads them to think they don’t belong at this school. They need to learn to share.”

The program’s goals are not only to help students identify a setback, but also to establish a method to recover from it, Bacon says.

Getting back up: For many students, navigating college life in and of itself is a challenge and can be isolating. By sharing stories of successful students, faculty, staff and administrators, REBOUND removes the stigma around failure.

Students get involved in REBOUND because they are looking for support after a tough academic semester or seeking additional support for their mental health, Hunsberger says. Sometimes, their parents found the program online and encouraged them to try it out.

REBOUND staff publish video stories on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the JMU website sharing a time that a student faced a hardship and was able to overcome it. Stories are grouped by themes, including academics and spiritual, financial and social hurdles. Video participants are volunteers who were nominated by community members or offered to share their narrative.

Community members also can share their stories through the REBOUND podcast, engaging in a discussion with Vice President of Student Affairs Tim Miller.

Mentorship and group organizations happen on a student-need basis, Hunsberger explains. The two types of meetings follow the same curriculum, just in a small group or one-on-one setting.

Faculty and staff members serve as mentors or small group leaders and complete a one-hour training around the curriculum.

During the eight-week mentorship, the pair works through six weeks of content related to the dimensions of wellness, sandwiched by an introduction and conclusion week.

“One of the things that I found is that typically, if a student comes in with an academic concern, that’s not the only thing that’s going on, or if they if they come with a mental health challenge, maybe that’s the result of an academic concern, or maybe it’s a financial challenge that’s causing anxiety,” Hunsberger says. “So we break it down into these six different areas of wellness, just to make sure we’re not missing something in the bigger picture.”

During the eight weeks, mentors work to address the student’s primary concern but also provide education on the other dimensions of wellness. Students also work out of a program journal, which offers a space to reflect and respond to the curriculum and also refers them to REBOUND videos to watch.

“This is the stuff, after 20 years of working with struggling students, that works,” Bacon says. “The key is it is different for every student, so they need to experiment and try to figure out what works best for them.”

Among surveyed participants, students have shared they are thankful for the accountability and a space to share and reflect on their weeks.

The next match-up: REBOUND has had several different staff leaders since its origin, creating a variety of approaches and focuses over the years. Hunsberger, with the help of his graduate assistant, hopes to create more structure and logistics with intake and content delivery to streamline the process.

Bacon published a book on resilience in 2022 called I Screwed Up! Now What? 7 Practices to Make Things Right—and Conquer Adversity, which draws from the REBOUND model and teaches how to implement the program’s core elements elsewhere. Looking ahead, Hunsberger is working with Miller, the vice president of student affairs, to create an opt-in REBOUND course to supplement a first-year experience course, which the university lacks.

Seeking stories from campus leaders, faculty members and staff for our Student Success focus. Share here.

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