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Monday, June 23, 2014

Identify, Partner, and Develop to Create Campus Well-Being


The University of Minnesota is one of Gallup’s best partners and a true example of an organization making a strategic impact on hope, engagement, and well-being through a strengths lens. More than 30,000 faculty, staff, and students have used their strengths to impact these life-changing outcomes. But this has been a process and not simply a switch that was flipped on one day. Dr. Shane Lopez, Dr. Tim Hodges, Katie Lyon, and I have worked with campus leaders to create the right strategy, the right steps, and the right measurements to create true cultural change. I asked Grant Anderson from the University of Minnesota to share the story of how a well-being outcome was implemented within Residence Life. 

Tom Matson, Senior Director of Executive Leadership, Gallup Education Practice

By Grant Anderson, Assistant Director of Residential Life and Student Development, University of Minnesota

Housing & Residential Life at the University of Minnesota launched a program centered on Gallup’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements in the fall of 2013 for 7,000 students. The journey toward our decision to create this educational curriculum and how it is being implemented today resulted in life lessons for all involved. We invite you to learn along with us.

Sometimes big ideas start in the smallest of places. In this case, the University of Minnesota well-being curriculum can trace its roots to playful banter between friends on Facebook. One friend was celebrating a successful strengths retreat at their institution and another friend, me, playfully mocked that retreat due to my complete lack of awareness about strengths or the benefits strengths can have on engagement and well-being. My friend pushed back on my mocking comments, and I started to think she might be onto something -- and that I might have been in the dark for way too long.

Based on that interaction, I decided to have our Residential Life staff spend a half-day learning about their strengths and discussing how we might use it in our work. This was the start of a runaway train that would position Housing & Residential Life, along with the rest of the University of Minnesota, at the national forefront of strengths education.

About this same time, our department was also looking for ways to expand the impact we can have on our students and the University of Minnesota. We house 90% of all first-year students and have a captive audience for nine and a half months. No other office at the University of Minnesota has that much access to students or is positioned to have the impact that we can. Our initial discussions led us to adopt a Residential Curriculum model as outlined by ACPA’s Residential Curriculum Institute.

The first step in going down the Residential Curriculum path is identifying an educational priority. The leadership group in Residential Life discussed and debated this for a few months and eventually landed on well-being. We felt that if we could build competency and skills in Gallup’s five essential elements of well-being, then we could help students be more engaged and successful to reach their own goals and university-related outcomes.

The key to this decision was realizing that while strengths are critical to student success, and especially engagement, it is very important to aim strengths at well-being. Housing & Residential Life is uniquely positioned at the University of Minnesota to develop and teach students about well-being in a way that will help them be successful for the rest of their college career and throughout their lives. The impact of our work will not only be felt during their time with us, but hopefully will become a lifestyle choice for decades to come.

A small group within Residential Life built a pilot curriculum to test during the 2012-2013 academic year. Later, the entire team, with help from the Gallup Education Team, built on their work and launched the full well-being curriculum, called Foundation for Success, in the fall of 2013. The curriculum consists of three core concepts: identify, partner, develop. First, we help students identify goals, hopes, and dreams they have for their lives and frame all of our learning, helping, and coaching around what they want for themselves. This approach is supported by the research around intrinsic motivation. Second, we want to position ourselves as partners in student success. We specifically want to establish the concept of partnership as the primary definition of our relationship with students. This approach is supported by the Student Partnership model by Marcia Baxter Magolda. Third, we help the student develop well-being competence, knowledge, and skills. This will make it more likely for them to reach their own goals and fulfills the university’s desired outcomes with regard to retention and graduation rates.

In the seven months since our launch, we have learned a couple of important lessons. First, there is never a perfect time to make a big change, and you will always launch a big new program under less-than-perfect conditions. The key is to commit to moving forward and adjust while you go. It is most important that you have a core purpose in terms of why you are doing the work and enough staff competence to move it forward. Second, your professional and student teams who are leading the charge need to be fully versed and invested in Gallup’s Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. This allows for  much of the teaching and learning to be done by role modeling and lifestyle choices. If your team is a living example of well-being, they are also teaching well-being. Lastly, this is a journey that is going to take some time. We will be evaluating and surveying students to understand the impact of our program, but it will take time to do this well, and to see and feel the impact we hope to have on students and the university community.

A final takeaway from this journey is that no one can do this alone. It would be impossible for our department to launch such an ambitious initiative without the help and support of a number of campus partners and the Gallup Education Team. We have embraced the innovators and champions, the Achievers and the Maximizers, the Strategic Thinkers and Influencers, and the entire team who are living and breathing the Foundation for Success curriculum.

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Grant Anderson is a graduate of Hamline University and Colorado State University. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Higher Education at the University of Minnesota. He has worked for the past 11 years in Housing & Residential Life at the University of Minnesota, where he currently serves as Assistant Director for Residential Life and Student Development. He has worked in consulting, presentations, and trainings in the areas of social justice, positive psychology, residential curriculum, strengths, and well-being.

Grant’s top five strengths: Command, Individualization, Strategic, Analytical, Activator

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