In Fall 2019, School of Biological Sciences lecturer Lesley Baradel and academic professional Christie Stewart taught the first section of a ‘Thriving, Not Just Surviving: Strategies for Health and Resilience’ class. Enrolled students began the course perhaps unsure of just what a class focused on mental health might involve, and completed it with a toolkit for stress management, positive coping strategies, and resilience.
The course put the concept of positive mental health at its forefront. Based on themes of positive psychology, coping and resilience strategies, the concepts of happiness and flourishing, and ideas of how to use failure in a positive way, the course sought to inspire students to approach mental health in a way that’s similar to how they might work at physical health. In addition, the course discusses the well-being programs and resources students can take advantage of on campus.
“We started this course based on Georgia Tech data, along with national higher education trends, which demonstrated the need for courses which focused on strategies for managing stress, positive coping, and resilience,” says Christie Stewart, who co-taught the class with Lesley Baradel. Both instructors are certified Thriving and Resilience Facilitators through the National Wellness Institute. “In addition, many students who took our APPH 1040 and 1050 courses provided feedback on their desire to spend more time on topics of mental health, stress management, and resilience.”
The course has its teachings based in several resilience focused research studies and literature, such as the concept of happiness based on Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research and “Failing Forward” by John Maxwell. Additionally, the course has integrated CliftonStrengths into its framework in partnership with the Effective Team Dynamics Initiative on campus with Mary Lynn Realff, associate professor and associate chair for undergraduate programs in the School of Materials Science and Engineering.
“The initiative helps build a strengths-based culture at Georgia Tech,” says Stewart. “We used strengths as our language to talk about how we were leveraging our natural talents to develop and support skills for self-care, resilience, and overall well-being.”
During the course, students form teams to work at a fundamental question: How do you create a thriving culture at Georgia Tech?
Students also are assigned journal assignments weekly, where they respond to prompts such as crafting your life purpose, introducing gratitude, and goal setting and positive intentions, as well as responding to readings.
The course teaches stress management and positivity skills that students can use beyond their years at Tech. Additionally, students who complete the course fulfill Tech’s wellness requirement, which is typically met by taking APPH 1050 and 1040 classes.
“This course gives students the opportunity to reflect on their current levels of well-being and set goals for skills or areas where they might improve overall coping and resilience,” says Stewart. “This provides a community of support for students to discuss stressors, coping, and how they can develop and improve overall well-being.”
Students who have completed the course also share that the trusting, supportive group dynamics found within it have empowered, educated, and encouraged them to continue to improve facets of their daily lives beyond the semester.
“After our course, students have said they appreciated the opportunity to reflect on what is stressing them out and how they can positively and effectively deal with those stressors,” says Stewart. “They’ve also appreciated the support and helpful discussions they’ve been able to have with their classmates. Being able to form bonds with our students and observe them supporting each other is very rewarding.”
Stewart shares that she is grateful for the support of the Georgia Tech Honors Program for piloting the course. She hopes that future courses will be fully integrated into the broader Georgia Tech course framework, and that positive discussions on mental health will continue to rise across campus. “I think one of the most important aspects of our course is the opportunity for in-depth discussions that students have about stress, resilience, and well-being,” she adds.
Interested in learning more about the course and future classes? Contact Christie Stewart to learn more the second pilot of "APPH 1802 HP: Thriving, Not Just Surviving: Strategies for Health and Resilience", which will be offered for the Honors Program for fall 2020 semester, and about expanded offerings in 2021.
Read more about the course on the Honors College Website.