Beacon counselor Venus Beulah leads a session.
By Richard Burnett
Everyone loves a comeback story — from aging Major League Baseball star Albert Pujols’ final run at baseball history and iconic tennis great Serena Williams’ last win at the U.S. Open to the Hollywood underdog boxer Rocky Balboa’s triumphs in the movies.
What is the common theme of the comeback? The hero overcomes adversity through courage and resilience.
In recent years, a number of colleges across the U.S. have focused on helping students write their own “comeback stories” of resilience amid the heightened stress of going to college during a pandemic.
This fall, a group of Beacon College educators has launched a Resiliency Initiative aimed at raising awareness and opening new doors to help students realize the power of resilience in their mental health and overall success. In the early stages, the educators envision campus-wide meetings, online resources, special events and a new campus club where students can share experiences.
They also plan to include tips and other instruction about resilience in The Beacon Experience, an extended orientation course to help first-year students’ transition to college. Ultimately, educators hope to integrate resilience into all subject areas to reinforce its benefits throughout a student’s college career.
“We hope it will be embraced campus-wide,” said Melissa Mayor, coordinator of the initiative and Beacon’s lead learning specialist for freshmen. “We believe spreading the message about resilience would benefit all — students, faculty and staff. It’s a win-win for everyone. It will help students have improved grades, more social skills, higher graduation rates and better careers.”
Take a breath, be resilient
Sometimes, Mayor said, the practice of building resilience can begin with a simple act: Just breathe. She recalled a student she was advising recently who came into her office in full panic mode about multiple assignments. She led him through a controlled-breathing exercise called “box breathing,” a relaxation technique.
“That got him to calm down and think about the situation constructively,” she said. “I asked him to put it all in perspective, focus on the moment and the task at hand. He realized he was upset about everything he had to do, but that he could actually only do one task at a time. That helped him get out of panic mode. He came back to me two hours later and he had finished everything.”
Not all anxiety issues can be so quickly solved, however, said Venus Beulah, a Beacon counselor and one of the Resilience Initiative organizers. It often takes time, persistence and patience to help students learn how to bounce back from discouragement and get back in the game, she said. By engaging more faculty and staff in the effort, organizers hope to reach more students with the message of resilience.
“I think this initiative is going to encourage more and more people to understand what resilience means and how they can implement it in their everyday lives,” Beulah said. “At this point, it’s like we’re just dipping our toes into the work to bring resilience to the forefront, get students and faculty excited about it, and start a very important conversation about its importance.”
Joining major universities
With its campus-wide emphasis on resilience, Beacon will join the ranks of major universities such as Duke, Cornell, Pepperdine and Penn State, organizers said. Many studies have documented the positive effect on student mental health and academic performance.
“There is a lot of research that shows how important resilience is for college students, especially for college students with learning disabilities,” said Dr. A.J. Marsden, associate professor of human services and psychology. “Our goal is to start encouraging resilience at the freshman level and continue that effort throughout their college career.”
The Beacon group is looking at a number of resilience-building techniques that could be implemented in the classroom, according to Marsden. One approach is to assign students low-risk, low-reward tasks that help them practice key core skills, such as writing. At the same time, it’s also important to have character-building conversations about failure.
“We talk about how failure is an important part of life,” she said, “not something to be afraid of or to avoid, but to learn from.”