News

Duke Endowment Grant Aimed at Promoting Student Resilience

by Bill Giduz

Trustees of The Duke Endowment have approved a $3.4 million grant to help Davidson, Duke University, Johnson C. Smith University and Furman University collaborate on increasing student resilience.

The four schools will use the four-year grant to study resiliency on each campus and pilot interventions to enhance it.

With today's college students reporting extreme levels of stress and anxiety, this effort will focus on ways that campuses can build "resiliency," which the project defines as the ability to thrive despite adversity and difficult circumstances.

"As our students increasingly deal with the growing stresses of contemporary college life, understanding and positively influencing their resiliency will, we believe, enhance their coping skills and enable them to optimize their academic and career pursuits," says Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke University.

Tom Shandley, vice president for student life at Davidson, calls it a "critical issue." He anticipates the research will have a ripple effect for other colleges and universities "and lead to ideas and models for new practices and strategies far beyond the four schools."

Campus leaders will begin the project this school year by designing the research model, which will include opportunities for students and faculty to work together and share their findings.

The focus for Year 2 will be data collection and analysis, which will help identify key sources of stress at each school. In Year 3, the schools will pilot interventions and assess their effectiveness. By the final year, each campus will have developed its own program to enhance student resiliency.

The schools will hold two symposia to share discoveries and outcomes.

Planning began in early 2012 when The Duke Endowment met with staff from the four schools to discuss student health and wellness and to see if the schools saw value in working together on the issue. The Endowment sponsored a one-day "student resiliency summit" in August 2012. And in May 2013, the Endowment awarded a $600,000 grant to add case management services to the four schools.

Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard, executive vice president at Johnson C. Smith, says the focus on resiliency will give the schools new tools to help students succeed. "This is a pivotal moment in higher education as we focus on getting students to and through colleges and universities by more strategically and intentionally understanding the interplay of personal characteristics and institutional factors that support persistence to graduation," he says.

The diversity of the schools offers a unique opportunity to identify interventions that could influence student well-being across the nation, says Moneta at Duke University. Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, The Duke Endowment Trustee who chairs the Endowment's Committee on Educational Institutions, agrees.

"These four educational institutions have unique cultures and priorities," she says, "but this timely effort will allow them to work together on an issue that affects students in the Carolinas and beyond."

Based in Charlotte, The Duke Endowment is one of the largest private foundations in the Southeast. Part of its annual grant making is focused on the four schools, along with rural United Methodist churches and organizations working in health care and child care. The Endowment has distributed more than $3 billion in grants since its inception in 1924.

For more information, please visit www.dukeendowment.org.