One of the hot topics on campuses this year is “grit,” which University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth understands as a fusion of passion, aspiration, tenacity and resilience that launches people to success.
Her important new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, challenges educators and institutions to see and strengthen this mind-set in our students. Yet some critics have taken issue with Duckworth, arguing that grit is too hard to isolate and measure, or too weak for broad impact in the face of structural barriers like generational poverty.
Recognizing these caveats, when I consider the lives and stories of my mentees at Franklin & Marshall College, grit seems like a crucial X factor in their achievement.
For example, there’s Markera Jones, who grew up contending with racism and low expectations at school. Throughout college, she kept trying and striving, whether studying Arabic or doing research with a psychology professor, working in a warehouse over breaks or studying abroad in France.
Central to her sustained drive was a calling to improve the lives of African-American children. Having graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2015, she’s now following her purpose by teaching in Memphis, Tenn., as she prepares to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology.
Then there’s Carolina Giraldo, whose parents fled the Colombian drug wars so that she and her younger brother, Luis, could grow up safe and free in America. Tragically, after years of hard work and family sacrifice, her father died suddenly during Giraldo’s first year of college.
Hurting profoundly, she picked herself up and vowed to persevere. As a sophomore she earned excellent grades and made all-conference in women’s varsity crew. The next year she won the campus award for best painting: a rendition of the eye of Michelangelo’s David. Last May, Giraldo graduated cum laude with a major in biochemistry and molecular biology on her way to medical school.
And there’s Becca Meyers, a history major who has Usher’s syndrome, which takes away hearing and sight. Navigating campus with her service dog, Birdie, and meeting often with professors, she also maintains a rigorous training regimen as a competitive swimmer. Her day-to-day life is more grueling than most people can imagine.
This September, Meyers won four medals -- three gold, one silver -- and set two world records at the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Of course, it wasn’t grit alone that propelled her to triumph. She had the moral and financial support from her loving parents to access great resources. And she came to a college that could help her balance the high demands of training and serious academics.
But that doesn’t change the fact that grit is a component of Meyers’s overall talent, which I define even more broadly than Duckworth, as all the resources we can draw upon to thrive in the challenges and opportunities of life.
Well, some ask, isn’t the idea of grit self-evident? Doesn’t everyone already know that most people need to work very hard and stay positive to achieve their goals?
Not really. Duckworth reminds us how often our society relies on mythical notions of “innate gifts” and thus fails to give grit its due. Sadly, when colleges are blind to the real assets and resources of students, we fall short of a key American ideal, which is that talent deserves the opportunity to rise.
Her research implies that highly selective colleges should do a better job identifying which applicants are strong on grit. Could we really do so? Sure -- by looking for students who have constantly sought out opportunity. By listening when applicants tell us they have acted on their passion for education in demonstrable ways. By seeing who has sustained strong grades over time or made the commitment to develop a skill that requires arduous practice.
And then there’s the educational process itself once students get to college. Because grit is not innate or fixed, Duckworth argues, we can cultivate and grow it, thereby enhancing student growth.
How would that happen?
Obviously, not by ignoring obstacles and deprivations and placing responsibility on the students alone to use their grit for success. Rather, educators should seek to build campus ecosystems where those with grit can shine, strengthen themselves and inspire others.
For example, we can give students more challenging research opportunities and one-to-one time with faculty members. We can help them pursue self-generated projects in areas of passion. We can treat those ubiquitous work-study jobs as opportunities to learn practical job skills or address inequities on or off the campus. We can celebrate the grit in the cultures and communities of students and encourage those with passion and perseverance to serve in peer leadership roles. All of this presumes that we’ll partner with students to meet their financial needs rather than asking them to assume unfair work or debt burdens.
As we consider such ideas, Duckworth places in the forefront the developmental fact that undergraduate education should be about much more than simply acquiring information toward a linear set of “competencies.” Strengthening grit can help the young develop the inner power to grow up, push forward and live well as active citizens.
Which brings us back my student Carolina Giraldo, who lost her father.
Last spring, during her senior year, she and I were partners in a workshop that asked us to choose a word that describes us best. Knowing her well, I thought she might pick “high-achieving, “caring,” “creative,” or “new American.” All true.
Instead, with pride in her eyes, she said, “Resilient.”
Which means this: more than her high grades and honors, this student values her optimistic drive against the headwinds of adversity. Having grit has become core to her moral identity and developing self.
Of course, Giraldo isn’t only resilient. But, indeed, it was her ability to bounce back from setbacks that empowered her to live all the other values that I and other mentors see in her: the readiness to work hard to learn difficult material, the freedom to dive headlong into new opportunities, the yearning to create growth and make meaning.
Such interior growth is one of the great aims of education. Where both perseverance and passion flourish, education has done its most sublime work. And, by the way, successes are probably not far behind.
Daniel R. Porterfield is president of Franklin & Marshall College.
Submitted by Jon Porter on November 17, 2016 - 3:00am
In our collective national consciousness, we as a society are becoming quite comfortable with the notion of legalized recreational cannabis. For the most part, we have decided that it’s safe, as reflected in the decline of American high school seniors who perceive great risk in regular marijuana use from 58 percent in 2005 to 31.9 percent in 2015. So it’s not surprising that legalization of cannabis has gained traction at the state level. On Election Day, ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of cannabis passed in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada; these states join Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington.
On one hand, such developments have very little to do with the policies of most institutions of higher education. In order to comply with the law, institutions that receive federal funding will still need to prohibit the possession of cannabis on their campuses. But on the other hand, if we in higher education are willing to go deeper on this issue, these developments afford colleges and universities the opportunity to clearly articulate the misalignment between regular cannabis use by students and our core institutional mission to fully engage them in intellectual and extracurricular life.
The fact is that regular cannabis use places students at substantially higher risk for impaired mental health, dependence and blunted academic engagement and achievement -- outcomes that are at direct odds with the mission of higher education. Indeed, such use has the potential to adversely impact the trajectory of their personal happiness and productivity for years after college.
Beyond the serious public health concerns associated with acute cannabis impairment, related primarily to operation of a motor vehicle, an emerging body of scientific literature outlines important findings related to the function of the brain -- findings that deserve the serious attention of faculty members, administrators and students. Central to that work is a new appreciation of the highly dynamic nature of brain development during the teenage and young adult years, a process involving the creation of new neural circuits and the pruning of others that is driven by both experiential and genetic forces. It has become apparent that cannabis can adversely impact that development seriously, and this is particularly true when use is regular and/or started at an early age.
With regard to the mental health of our students, the literature highlights disturbing associations between regular cannabis use and the development of psychosis, anxiety and depression. Psychotic events are uncommon but regular occurrences in the traditional college-age population, and as one would expect, have devastating and long-term impacts on both the individual and the family system. Anxiety and depressive disorder, while perhaps less dramatic in presentation, often results in a blunted ability to engage effectively in academic life and to function at one’s potential.
Beyond all this, regular cannabis use impairs cognitive function. Among the impacts noted in the literature is a long-term erosion of executive function, an array of cognitive skills that help us discern important from superfluous information, prioritize tasks, and organize and carry out our day. Each of those outcomes appear to be dose dependent (more likely with regular use) and more likely to occur with earlier age at first use.
The addictive potential of cannabis is an undersold and rarely discussed issue -- one that is all too real for those afflicted. Cannabis use disorder (CUD), a clinical diagnosis arrived at when use results in dysfunction in one or more of life’s arenas -- school, work or interpersonal relationships -- is a real and underappreciated risk of regular use. A 2008 study using face-to-face interviews of more than 1,200 first-year college students noted a 9.7 percent prevalence of CUD among all first-year students and 24.5 percent prevalence among students who reported any use in the preceding year. Recovery from CUD takes years, including a typically prolonged period of time when use is having an adverse, but not yet recognized, impact on a person’s quality of life and performance.
Of significant note, the studies raising concerns about use have been conducted during an era when the potency of cannabis (measured in the percentage of its active ingredient, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) has increased tremendously. Between 1993 and 2008, the potency of cannabis confiscated by law enforcement authorities grew from 3.4 to 8.8 percent. Preparations exceeding 80 percent are now readily available to consumers in states with legalized recreational use (as well as in states that have not legalized recreation use). It is quite likely that the associations between regular cannabis use and the impairments of mental health and cognitive function noted in studies over the past decade will strengthen as new studies enroll subjects who have used more potent cannabis. At this point in time, we simply don’t know how cannabis preparations as potent as those now available will affect the function of the cerebral cortex at the cellular level.
As a higher education community, our thinking about cannabis is at a point where our perceptions regarding the risks of high-risk drinking were decades ago. Not perceiving its serious downsides, we are inclined to accept and even normalize use in consonance with the views of broader society and set a bar far too low.
We have the opportunity to take a very different approach and seize a crucial leadership position in two ways. First, against a rising societal tide of acceptance, we can take it upon ourselves to clearly understand the hazards posed by regular cannabis use to the mental health and to the well-being of our students -- and ultimately to their ability to optimize their engagement in academic and extracurricular life in the process of actualizing their potential. Medical and mental-health service leaders must actively engage this issue to ensure that campus leadership, students, faculty members and student affairs professionals have a common understanding about the insidious downsides of regular use.
Second, senior institutional leadership must clearly articulate the risks it poses to student engagement and the success to every constituency of their learning community. Presidents, provosts, deans and chairs must be clear and consistent in communicating the disconnect between regular use, optimal performance and attainment of the most robust learning environment possible.
Of crucial note, this is not an issue of right or wrong that institutions can meaningfully resolve though prohibition or sanction. The most effective approaches will be those that help students achieve clarity about their goals for this time in their lives -- goals regarding the development of their intellect, their relationship to others and their understanding of the broader world -- and provide them the means to think critically and act effectively in making decisions about what role they want cannabis (along with alcohol and other substances) to play in their journey.
In the final analysis, this is work situated at the very core of our mission in higher education. But it’s work that we can’t do if we passively accept the broader societal messaging about the harmlessness of cannabis. Because of our stake in the healthy development of young minds, we are called to be better informed and more nuanced in our approach to mitigating its impact on our students and our mission.
Jon Porter is director of the University of Vermont Center for Health and Well-being.
The past 18 months leading to the election of Donald Trump last night have been incredibly challenging for us as a nation and certainly for all of us who work in higher education.
The angry and hostile dialogue has left many in our communities feeling unsafe, devalued and marginalized. For many of our students and staff members, the results of the election will magnify those feelings of outrage, despair, hopelessness and genuine fear for their future. It is important to note that after the rhetoric expressed during the election, our Muslim, Jewish, African-American, Latinx, undocumented and LGBTQ students and staff, as well as students and staff members who are sexual assault survivors, will likely have strong emotional reactions to this election outcome.
How do we move forward? First, we need to acknowledge what just happened. About 47 to 48 percent of voters, more than 59 million Americans, sent a clear message that they wanted something different and wanted someone who spoke to their concerns. We live in a fractured and divided country with two very different visions about our future path.
This division and the politics of hate that have surrounded this election make the work we do in student affairs even more important today than it was before the election.
This will not be easy, and it never is. Those of us who work in student affairs will need to take some time to absorb the results of this election, tend to the self-care necessary, support those who are hurting or angry and afraid, and then quickly get back to the work we do: providing support to our students who themselves will be struggling with a range of emotions following the election.
This election does not stop the work we must do to address racial injustice on our campuses and in our communities. It makes it more important.
This election does not stop the crucial work we are doing to increase degree progress and completion for first-generation students, low-income students and students of color. It makes it more important.
This election does not stop the need to support the hundreds of thousands of undocumented students who are on our campuses. It makes it more important.
This election does not stop the work we are doing to engage students in difficult conversations around race, gender identity, religion and sexual orientation. It makes it more important.
This election, and its results, creates an urgency for a new generation of leaders -- leaders who are on our campuses. The work we do to encourage active discourse, protest and activism is core to our democracy and to our need to engage a new generation committed to ideals of inclusion and social justice. This is more important than ever.
The next few months will be critical for our country and our colleges and universities. It is unknown how President-elect Trump will view the higher education sector. NASPA will continue to monitor, teach and provide opportunities for dialogue about these issues within the next few months.
I remain optimistic about the work we are doing in higher education and the role each student affairs professional plays in the lives of our students. Our work has never been more important.
Kevin Kruger is president of NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
Submitted by Tom Kalil on October 24, 2016 - 3:00am
Students in Society
Imagine a world in which clean energy is cheaper than coal, safe drinking water is accessible and affordable to everyone on the planet, and no child goes to bed hungry. Imagine a world where we have vaccines for AIDS, TB and malaria, and effective treatments for cancer and Alzheimer’s. Imagine a society where everyone has anytime, anywhere access to the highest-quality learning opportunities. Imagine a future in which astronauts venture out into the solar system, not just to visit but to stay.
These and other similarly ambitious goals are within reach -- particularly if we inspire and empower the next generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and civic leaders to imagine and embrace them. Today’s change makers have access to knowledge and resources that would have been unimaginable 20 to 30 years ago, such as access to virtually unlimited computing resources and the ability to use online platforms to crowdsource funding and expertise from around the world. How can our educational institutions offer the learning opportunities that will inspire these change makers?
One of the scholars that President Obama met with was Michaela Rikard, a biomedical engineering student at North Carolina State University. She’s interested in developing new medical therapies that are personalized, affordable and readily available worldwide. She’s already conducted research to use nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer, and has worked with the military to help soldiers suffering from amputation complications.
This interest in Grand Challenges is not limited to the STEM disciplines. The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare has identified 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work to address major societal challenges such as ending homelessness and family violence.
Given the growing interest among colleges and universities in addressing real-world problems, the time is right to identify the elements of an all-hands-on-deck effort to motivate, prepare and empower young people to tackle the grand challenges of the 21st century, at home and abroad. For example:
Colleges and universities could provide students with more opportunities for course work and experiential learning that is focused on problems, drawing on the insights from multiple disciplines. This fall, Stanford University is offering a Hacking for Diplomacy course that allows students to work on global problems such as the Syrian refugee crisis, countering violent extremism and fighting illegal fishing. Many other universities are interested in replicating this course and a similar course called Hacking for Defense. Government agencies can support these efforts by providing funding and identifying important problems.
Colleges and universities could target some of their federal work-study funds to allow students to work on real-world problems that they and their institutions care about. Students could be challenged to write their own job description and find a company or nonprofit organization that would be interested in hosting them.
Researchers and practitioners could collaborate on the design and dissemination of online courses and open educational resources that are problem focused and help students develop and hone some of the skills they will need to be effective change makers in the public or private sectors. For example, the World Bank has created a set of online short courses that help learners understand a particular problem (for example, understanding the impact of climate change in developing countries) or a problem-solving methodology (using public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure or involving citizens in the formulation of public policy).
Foundations and philanthropists could provide scholarships so that these opportunities are available to low-income students and underrepresented minorities.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy would like to hear from you about what your institution is doing to inspire and empower the next generation of change makers. What new actions is it taking to encourage college and university students to solve important real-world problems? What other actions should the public and private sectors take to prepare future change makers? Please share your views at email@example.com.
Tom Kalil is deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
As colleges and universities across the country grapple with challenges of access and affordability and worry about the sustainability of their business models, some institutions are considering whether or not to establish a program of work for all students.
Berea College, where I am president, has offered employment to all of its students for more than a century, and it was one of the founding members of the Work Colleges Consortium. This federally recognized organization includes eight residential liberal arts institutions that provide a universal work experience as part of their educational programing. The work program has become integral to the Berea experience, and it might well be worth consideration at other colleges and universities, too.
The Berea Program
We often say at Berea that we do not just admit students, we hire them. In consequence, we have 1,600 intelligent, motivated part-time employees. All of the WCC institutions receive federal grant funding; at Berea, we use a portion of that to pay students in the form of a nontaxable hourly wage, which increases with added experience and job responsibilities.
The students’ earnings can be used for general living expenses as well as to help contribute to the cost of their attendance. (Although no student pays tuition at Berea, they and their families are expected to contribute as determined by the FAFSA to fees and living expenses.) The compensation earned through the work program thus helps to minimize debt for our students. About a third of our students graduate entirely debt-free, with the rest borrowing an average of less than $7,000.
The students in the main are very capable workers. The majority start in positions involving working with their hands, in food service, as custodians, on our farm (one of the oldest continuously operating student educational farms in the United States), in our students crafts industries and the like. Starting with these assignments enables them to experience and value the dignity of manual labor well done. In fact, our founder, the Southern abolitionist Reverend John G. Fee, believed in the role education can play in promoting social mobility, and to that end, he saw work as necessary for blurring the distinctions of class. He believed as well that the values of independence, industry and innovation -- such crucial elements of the college learning experience -- are best built on a foundation of productive, necessary work. These beliefs still ring true at Berea.
Progressing through their college career, some students stay with assignments involving manual labor, usually taking on broadened responsibilities, including supervision of other students, while others shift to work that relates to their career interests. For example, future accounting professionals work in the college business office, graduate school-bound students often become teaching assistants, and students interested in education can work in the Child Development Lab, campus day care center and early childhood education facility. Students can explore the various options at our annual Labor Day celebration, which serves as a large collegewide job fair.
The WCC rules and the effectiveness of an educational work program require universal participation. All Berea students work at least 10 hours per week, and we have additional positions of up to five hours per week for those who desire to earn more money or wish to have additional learning experiences. For example, a student worker in my office spends five hours a week maintaining and updating the website but also holds a 10-hour position in our athletic facility.
A work program requires supervision by paid employees -- not only many staff but also teaching faculty. Since the work experience is an important part of each student’s learning, Berea staff are much more involved in the educational program than at institutions where only some of the students work and work is not intentionally integrated into the learning experience. That’s why we consider our staff to be members of the general faculty and support and reward their contributions to the education of students.
Additionally, the element of learning through work needs to be supported by an extensive infrastructure, including evaluations, a labor transcript (which graduates can submit when applying for jobs), the possibility of labor probation and even suspension for those students who are not progressing in meeting their responsibilities. Because it is so integral to the students’ learning at Berea, we also include the work program as part of our academic program in the decennial institutional reaccreditation process.
Along with work and educational benefits, our program teaches other life skills. For example, many of our students have not had paid work positions before, and most have not had a bank account. We require all student paychecks to be direct deposited so that every student learns to manage a checking account, a first step in our more comprehensive financial literacy program.
We also encourage philanthropy. We promote our payroll deduction program to the students, and more than half make small contributions from their biweekly checks to the college’s annual fund. In fact, their participation rate exceeds that of faculty, staff and alumni giving overall.
Casual observation also suggests that our campus and buildings seem to be better treated by students than at institutions where regular employees are responsible for upkeep. It’s a little different to make a mess or damage the facilities if one of your fellow students will be cleaning it up or fixing what you did.
The Berea education is a transformative one for our students, and the work program contributes to that in many ways. Close bonds develop between students and labor supervisors, whether faculty or staff, thus allowing for enhanced mentorship. Many alumni credit their work experiences as having been crucial to acquiring work skills, getting first jobs and advancing professionally. In fact, many have shared with me that it was their work experience on the campus that ended up having the greatest impact on their professional lives.
One older alumnus, for instance, told me about his work assignment in the restaurant of the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel, a campus inn that the college owns. At that time, we had a hotel management program overseen by Richard Haugen, a graduate of Cornell University’s program, who enjoys legendary status among the alumni who worked under him. He had introduced a signature dish, chicken flakes in a bird’s nest, on the restaurant menu. The eponymous nest, made of shredded potatoes, shaped appropriately and fried, needs to be made ahead of time, and this particular alum had the assignment of arriving in the kitchen at 4 a.m. to make the nests. One morning he overslept, and chicken flakes were off the menu for the rest of that day. Haugen made sure this was an experience never forgotten by the alum, who told me that in 40-some years of employment, he never again arrived late for work.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of the program, however, is that it allows our students to become deeply engaged in their learning environment while encouraging pride, confidence and respect for all manner of work. I saw that four years ago, when I was being interviewed on campus for Berea’s presidency. On that visit, the questions I wanted to answer had to do with the claims the college makes about its mission and identity and whether they were genuine. A work program makes for good press, but it would be easy to imagine that it would be mostly about PR.
The visit included a campus tour. As we entered Presser Hall, the home of our music program, a young man was emerging from the first-floor restroom, pushing a cleaning cart and removing his rubber gloves. His demeanor, which I took in at a glance, was eloquent testimony. I am sure he had not enjoyed cleaning that bathroom, but his bearing was one of accomplishment and purpose. He had learned to clean bathrooms well and found satisfaction in doing a good job. That was the moment I decided that if offered the position I would be coming to Berea College.