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Students stand in a circle outside Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

Students participated in Koru Mindfulness training during their first-year seminar course, learning self-care and mindfulness skills they can use during their time at college.

Liz Kaye/Indiana University

To provide first-year students with self-care and stress-relief skills, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis faculty and staff introduced mindfulness training into first-year seminar courses.

The four-week training, led by certified IUPUI employees, promotes wellness, community and active learning among participants and improved student mental health.

What’s the need: IUPUI faculty and staff wanted to address student mental health concerns and provide tools for stress management to students, particularly in light of the pandemic.

The initiative was co-led by Heather Bowman, director of first-year experiences at the Institute for Engaged Learning (IEL), and first-year experiences faculty fellows Lisa Angermeier and Nancy Barton.

By adding mindfulness to the first-year seminar, Barton, Bowman and Angermeier hoped to create equitable access to resources, rather than requiring students to opt in to the programming. Mindfulness activities also add a layer of engaged learning experiences and allow students to build community with their peers.

Creating mindfulness: This past fall, 10 sections of IUPUI’s first-year seminar courses participated in four weeks of Koru Mindfulness programming, involving 274 students.

Koru Mindfulness is an evidence-based course designed for college students to learn mindfulness skills. The program comes from Duke University and was created in 2005, with flexibility for class sizes, number of classes, length of classes and different approaches based on the student needs.

“The word ‘Koru’ is the New Zealand Maori word for the spiral shape of the new fern frond, a shape that symbolizes new, balanced growth—like an emerging adult,” Angermeier explains.

Six faculty and staff members at IUPUI participated in Koru Mindfulness teacher trainings, courtesy of a grant from IUPUI Office of Health and Wellness Promotion, and earned Koru Mindfulness instructor titles.

Study: Faculty Involvement in Mental Health

A May Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found over half of respondents rated their mental health as fair or poor, and half of students with mental health conditions haven’t used any campus counseling services.

Students see professors as the No. 1 group on campus with a responsibility to help them ease their stress, after counseling staff, with 42 percent of respondents indicating faculty members have a duty to aid in stress reduction.

After getting certified, the six instructors worked with FYS instructors to lead the four-week programs for students.

Students participate in 75-minute sessions and learn techniques to manage daily stressors, develop self-regulation skills and establish habits to utilize the various practices. Some of the content includes breath awareness, guided meditation, labeling thoughts and feelings, mindful eating, and walking meditation.

Beyond practical skills, students also discuss ideas around mindfulness like present moment awareness, judgement and “human being versus human doing,” (understanding self through a lens of personhood instead of performance), Angermeier explains.

The impact: The initiative leaders collected pre- and postintervention survey data from the first year of student participants, measuring perceived stress, mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion.

Of surveyed students, 62 percent found their Koru Mindfulness practice to be favorable, and student responses indicated they have implemented strategies in their daily lives as they faced stressors. Of students who did not find the practice favorable, a lack of time to practice mindfulness was one of the top reasons shared.

“From the collected reflections, we learned that the more consistently a student practiced the skills of mindfulness, the more their self-reported feelings of stress and anxiety were reduced,” Angermeier says.

In the fall, 16 first-year seminar courses will include mindfulness training, increasing efforts and education on campus.

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