An increasing number of students are suffering from anxiety, even before the added stress of college life. Meanwhile, the media bombards students with images of impending doom about the climate crisis and environmental collapse, potentially increasing the sense of helplessness, fear, or anger. Fostering a sense of personal and environmental resilience through contemplative practices and engagement with sustainability topics in and out of the classroom was the goal of this librarian and professor collaborative team. The team created a culture of awareness for both sustainability and mindfulness via an in-class embedded librarian model, and out of class programming over a three year period.
First-year students are in a state of transition, not only in their educational setting, but often also in their living arrangements. This transition may be accompanied by stress and anxiety without much instruction on stress resilience. Cultivating an attitude of mindfulness and utilizing mindfulness-based practices such as breathwork, meditation, and intention-setting are useful skills for students to grasp early in their educational journey as engineers and to use in approaching inevitable setbacks. In an effort to destigmatize mental health issues related to the college transition and train nascent engineers in mindfulness techniques, an overarching theme of mindfulness with corresponding lessons was introduced into the first-year engineering class time and out of class library programming.
Sustainability programming included environmental movie nights with curricular links and conversations about climate change using the World Cafe methodology. These activities were developed to allow students time outside of class to engage with topics in an interdisciplinary manner as they were open to students in all departments and the public. As it can be difficult to get students to attend programming outside of class time, it was important to select films and conversations that were engaging, topical, and tied to other campus-wide initiatives. A World Cafe on climate change was incorporated into the first-year experience class specifically geared towards Women in STEM, facilitated by the librarian, and composed primarily of engineering students. The World Cafe was the final class project organized by the students, who were especially encouraged to promote it to their colleagues from the introductory engineering class. In addition, engineering students were encouraged to come to the films and World Cafe via a passport program through which they were required to complete a subset of tasks associated with the class.
Introducing first-year engineering students to mindfulness techniques and strategies along with sustainability topics can help students cope with stress and anxiety about environmental challenges and their early college transition, as well as provide strategies for resilience, skills that engineers can benefit from the rest of their lives.
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