- Lessons From a Student Resilience Project
University educators struggle to provide effective assistance to students for the transition to college life (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2019). Like many other institutions, Florida State University, population 42,000, has grappled with how best to help students meet these challenges. In 2018, the university administration requested a new customized approach: a universal psychoeducational prevention program for all students, resulting in the launch of a unique website called The Student Resilience Project (Oehme et al., 2019).
The design phase of the project included an extensive literature review of the science of stress, trauma, and resilience, as well as testing of and feedback from students on program content. Research on the experiences—including adverse childhood experiences—and developmental needs of young adults resulted in a realistic portrayal of student struggles. The main goal of the project, launched in 2018, was to increase students' ability to manage stressful life events. As end users, students influenced all project content, style, and promotion. Exercises and activities were grounded in an evidence-informed approach to complement existing campus mental health services.
The program, required of all first-year students but promoted to all students, helps young adults transition to college using peer videos on overcoming common stressors, videos on resilience, skill-building activities, relaxation skills training, brief audio lectures by mental health experts, and connections to campus counseling and supportive resources. The program is unique because it is traumainformed. The material presented explains how childhood trauma can increase vulnerability to poor mental health and substance abuse problems, and guidance, resources, and support are provided. Student success is characterized as more than academic achievement. The website is part of a campus-wide Resilience Campaign to raise awareness of common challenges and individual strengths and capacities for growth.
During a crucial time for young adult development (Chung & Hudziak, 2017), college students report increased rates of stress (American Psychological Association, 2018) and greater prevalence of mental health problems that can interfere with adjustment to student life, academic success, retention, and transition into adulthood (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010). Young adults face significant pressures including academic competition, debt, and [End Page 396] social pressures (Adams, 2012; Sungkok et al., 2017), and many face the onset of mental health issues (Kessler et al., 2005). This demographic (Generation Z) grew up with the internet and they are comfortable seeking health information online (Rideout & Fox, 2018). A previous study showed that online education can provide health-related curricula to students who are unlikely to seek formal help (Ryan, Shochet, & Stallman, 2010). One way that researchers suggest promoting resilience is to build up the components of resilience, including self-efficacy, which may help students prepare for new stressful circumstances (Schwarzer & Warner, 2013). The Student Resilience Project promotes protective skills that increase resilience (e.g., social support, sense of belonging, self-efficacy) and manage stress—a trigger for poor mental health (Karatekin & Ahluwalia, 2020) and maladaptive coping (Forster, Grigsby, Rogers, & Benjamin, 2018).
Accessible on any device, the Student Resilience Project has an intentionally distinct look, different from the Florida State University website. Focus groups helped delineate the topics of most concern to students and 12 diverse student assistants helped the design team integrate bright animation, GIF illustrations, and a Pop Art look. The "What I Wish I Knew" videos feature students talking about adjustment issues like homesickness, breakups, and culture shock related to the first semester in college. Researchers also collaborated with faculty and staff from more than a dozen campus units to transform the rich expertise on campus into an accessible resource for students called Real Talk, brief audio presentations by faculty experts in the TED Talks style. Real Talk features advice about frustration, tolerance, coping with grief and loss, dealing with intrusive thoughts, support for Students of Color, and LGBTQ+ issues, among other topics. A Learn New Skills section features relaxation and coping skills instruction, including musical relaxation, breathing techniques, mindfulness, sleep-aid audios, and reflective writing. A resource section offers guidance for students with depression, anxiety, and other personal and academic problems...