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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Tiernan

Report from the Field: Shifting Resiliency in the Classroom

Last year, we decided to reorganize the AQR Lab. Since the inception of the Lab, students would partner in teams to explore qualitative research projects of particular interest to them. While this allowed us to diversify our interests, it also felt fractured. Many of us missed working together toward a cohesive goal. So, we put our minds together, brainstormed, and decided to launch a single, unified project: Shifting Resiliency in the Classroom (SRC) Study. Many of us in the lab observed the lasting impact of COVID-19 on college students' mental health. Yet, we were dissatisfied with the existing research. Even more, we were driven by a desire to improve student well-being. And thus, the SRC Study was born!

The SRC study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a resiliency intervention for undergraduate students. As a mixed-method study, we have partnered with the Center for Resiliency at Dell Children’s and have worked closely with Dr. Phoebe Franco, one of the creators of the Resiliency Training program. The program was originally designed to support individuals in healthcare and healthcare communities. Through six brief one-hour modules, the Resiliency Training program helps individuals develop coping strategies, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and setting boundaries, to use when confronted with stressful situations. We realized that many of these strategies could help college students build their resiliency when transitioning to college and young adulthood.

In the Summer of 2022, we worked as a team to adapt and tailor the Resiliency Training program to meet the needs of college students. We also received funding from UT Austin’s SHIFTovation grant program to conduct the study. SHIFT engages the UT Austin community in dialogue to shift the campus culture from one of substance and alcohol misuse to one of well-being. In recognition of their immense support for our study and our common endeavors to promote student well-being, we named the adapted program, “Shifting Resiliency in the Classroom.”

With funding in place, and an adapted program ready to launch, we were ready to apply for IRB approval. In preparation, we drafted the IRB application, informed consent forms, questionnaire and qualitative interview instruments, and study procedures. The purpose of including the questionnaire and qualitative interview was to understand students' experience of the Resiliency Training and observe any changes to their well-being during and after the program. When we returned to campus in the Fall of 2022, we submitted and received IRB approval just in the nick of time to begin the research! All 102 students in Dr. Gulbas’ UGS course (Women & Madness) would receive the Resiliency Training program over the course of the semester, and students were given the option to participate in the research study.

To launch the study, we delivered a recruitment presentation to students. This presentation aimed to inform potential student participants about the study while showcasing that we were also undergraduate students and had once been in their shoes. Several students came up to us afterward to learn more about the lab and how to get involved in research. This was an unanticipated, but exciting, benefit of our presentation!

Then, we worked to screen and enroll interested student participants. With training in informed consent procedures, we met virtually with each interested student to tell them more about the study, screen them for eligibility in the study, and conduct informed consent. Once students verbally assented to their participation, we provided them with an informed consent document for them to sign. After gathering informed consent, we were able to send them the baseline questionnaire to complete. Up next on the to-do list: Blog about our experiences conducting follow-up questionnaires and qualitative interviews!

As someone who is deeply passionate about expanding the accessibility of mental health care, I have a personal stake in the success of this project. On college campuses, the stigmatization of mental health can prevent students from seeking treatment. Our study sends the message to students that it is okay to reach out when they need help. Working alongside an amazing team of hardworking lab members and under the guidance of Dr. Gulbas has made the project even more enjoyable. We have even implemented some of the practices from Shifting Resiliency in the Classroom into our weekly meetings. After every team meeting, we complete a gratitude exercise in which we share “Three Good Things” from our day. Overall, we have learned so much and look forward to sharing more of our insights!

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