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Being present

Mindfulness program fostering student success at Memorial

Teaching and Learning

By Jackey Locke

A workplace mindfulness training program at Memorial improved students’ ability to pay attention, increased their self-awareness and reduced their levels of anxiety.

The 10-week program, Using Workplace Mindfulness Practice to Support University Students’ Well-Being and Capacities for Awareness, Attention and Reflection, was offered on three different occasions to a total of 37 undergraduate and graduate students over the past two years.

Sessions included mindfulness instruction and practice, and presentations on topics such as building respectful relationships and how to navigate stress and uncertainty.

‘Respond instead of react’

Program participant Igor Tchouiko is an undergraduate ocean and naval architectural engineering student and feels that all students should consider such a program.

“Everyone should do it,” he said. “It teaches students the benefits of using mindfulness at the workplace and at home. Mindfulness teaches the basics of meditation and its benefits. It reduces stress and anxiety and allows you to pick up on more detail and to respond instead of react. Every aspect of our lives can benefit from increased focus and presence.”

Igor Tchouiko says all students should participate in the mindfulness program offered at Memorial.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Andrew Safer, a mindfulness practitioner who has been practicing mindfulness for more than 50 years and instructing for half that time, developed and delivered the program. He says the impact on students like Mr. Tchouiko is evident in the feedback they received.

“Participants indicated that they felt they had more strategies to handle worry and rumination after completing the program,” said Mr. Safer, adding this was one of several takeaways for participants.

Students completed questionnaires at the beginning and end of the program.

“The program questionnaire responses indicated the students felt there was a 35 per cent positive change on how to pause and interrupt thoughts and feelings of worry. There was a 26 per cent positive change in the tendency to avoid facing difficult thoughts and feelings,” said Mr. Safer.

In addition to the questionnaires, weekly comments from students indicated they were both applying themselves to mindfulness practice and developing insight.

Dr. Janna Rosales, visiting assistant professor, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, spearheaded the project and co-facilitated weekly participant reflection exercises with Vashti Campbell, a PhD candidate in Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Rosales collaborated with Dr. Kara Arnold, a professor in Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration; and Dr. Megan Walsh, an assistant professor with Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan. Darlene Spracklin-Reid, a lecturer in Memorial’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, provided project support.

“I think that meditation exercises taught at the program are very useful in making the mind healthy.” — Student participant

Dr. Rosales says that mindfulness in the workplace has garnered a lot of attention from industries and leaders at organizations such as Google, Intel, General Mills and Aetna.  She says corporate mindfulness programs have been used to support employees’ well-being, to foster clearer thinking and to improve relationships at work.

“Mindfulness is also being used in academic contexts to help students focus on their studies and manage stress,” she said. “We adapted some best practices from the corporate world combined with best practices from academic research on mindfulness to deliver a valuable professional development experience for students who are navigating the demands of a new workplace and trying to figure out who they are in a professional sense.”

‘Making the mind healthy’

Participating students reported that they felt the program was “incredibly useful” in becoming self-aware, improving communication, learning coping skills and improving professional and personal identity.

“I think that meditation exercises taught at the program are very useful in making the mind healthy,” said one student. “I feel less stressed and more relaxed after joining the program.”

The project received $22,336 in support from Memorial University’s Teaching and Learning Framework. The project team presented preliminary results of the study in a poster session at the International Symposium for Contemplative Research held this past November in Phoenix, Ariz.

The team was recently awarded a further grant to pilot a workplace mindfulness program focused specifically for engineering students at Memorial. For more information, please contact Dr. Rosales.

With files from Dr. Janna Rosales and Andrew Safer.

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