Resilience is a vital skill to learn, because it empowers people to deal well with the stress, change, uncertainty, and adversity that everyone sometimes experiences. Those who are resilient can thrive in any situation. Students at George Mason University, which has a university-wide commitment to well-being, are preparing for the personal and professional challenges they’ll face in the future through the pioneering Resilience Badge program. Their journey is an example we all can learn from to develop resilience.
“Resilience is an important skill for students to learn because college is hard,” said junior Jena Chalmers, a Biology major and student well-being team member who earned the badge as a sophomore. “We are under a lot of pressure; we have a lot going on, juggling work, school, extracurricular [activities], friends, relationships, sleep, etc., and there are generally a lot of major life changes we are dealing with at the same time. This is a time of a lot of change, which, if we learn how to relate to in a positive way, can also be a time of a lot of growth.”
Mason’s undergraduate and graduate students earn the badge through a five-session workshop that counts as credit toward the Patriot Experience Well-Being Pathway. The Resilience Badge was designed by Education Design Lab, which has worked with many different universities to create badges focused on 21st century skills that are in demand now by employers. “George Mason was the first university that we’ve worked with to capture informal learning in ways that are meaningful to employers,” said Kathleen deLaski, founder and president of Education Design Lab. Mason chose to focus on resiliency, since that ties into the Mason Resilience Model that was developed here.
“Students may not realize how resilient they already are,” said Lewis Forrest, an associate dean of University Life and the facilitator for the Resilience Badge workshops. “The sum of their challenges and life experiences really makes them resilient people, and it’s a process to learn more about themselves and how to put resilience into practice in their lives.”
The process of earning the badge helped Jessica Viricochea discover how resilient she could be in challenging situations, she said. Through the workshop sessions, “I learned about my strengths and weaknesses, how to improve myself, and how to enhance my strengths,” said Viricochea, who participated in a workshop while she was a senior majoring in Public Administration and now works as an office assistant in University Life. “… One powerful message I took was to be positive and optimistic, especially during tough times like we are facing today. By having a positive attitude you become healthier, confident, and you trust yourself more on how to handle a certain situation.”
Chalmers said she signed up for the badge workshop to “build my knowledge around resilience and provide me with resources and tools for me to use to navigate more easily through difficult times” and also to “show some of my knowledge around well-being and resilience on my resume.”
The badge was originally designed for students to use professionally, deLaski said. “Employers have told us that resilience is a key quality that employers are looking for, but it’s a pretty hard thing to tell from just a resume.” Since employers now pay close attention to students’ digital footprints, earning a Resilience Badge and mentioning that online can attract positive attention from employers, deLaski pointed out.
“A skill like this one is more valuable than a technical skill in a lot of ways,” noted Forrest. “Having resilience and being able to share that with others in the workplace is something students can take with them into any job situation.”
Senior Bianca Meza, a Community Health major who earned the badge during her junior year, helped refine the badge’s design with potential employers in mind. “The resilience badge is an innovative idea that is shaping our future of how we interact with prospective employers,” she said. “Having the chance to work with Don Fraser from Education Design Lab gave me insight to create a t-profile, a template that helps visually showcase so-called ‘soft and hard skills’… The digital badge can be used on different social platforms for employers to see, such as LinkedIn and/or a resume.”
Students who earn the badge together practice skills that they can use on job interviews, as well as in other situations, Forrest said. “Being able to accept feedback from other people gives students new perspectives to consider. Practicing resilience skills that will help them prepare for different life situations – from collaborating with other students on a project to preparing for a job interview – also helps them learn how resilient they can be.”
Although the badge began for students to use in their careers, it soon became clear that the badge was just as valuable for students to use for personal reasons as well as professional ones, deLaski said. “We started this project out as a career building effort to help students get visible and tangible credentials to use in the job market. But we found that many of the students were doing it not just to build their careers but for personal growth reasons. Their comments showed us that real transformation was taking place. They were building confidence, finding identity, and making sense of the rest of their learning.”
Meza said she can use what she learned in the workshop sessions in many different situations. “I gained a better sense of awareness on what it truly means to be resilient. I am mindful that some things will be out of my control. This allows me to accept and appreciate how strong and confident I am to face new challenges. It makes me think, ‘If I was able to get through that tough situation, what makes me think I can’t do it again?’ It puts things into perspective of how important it is to have a support system and a healthy mind to envision positive thoughts. The smallest accomplishments and even the biggest failures in life should be appreciated because every encounter with them can only make us stronger. … It is empowering to feel capable of cultivating well-being, and being happy.”
Participating in the workshop changed Chalmers’ perspective on stressors and difficult circumstances, she said. “In the past, I would focus on the negative and dwell on things I can’t change. Now, I view difficult tasks as a challenges and opportunities to learn new skills and put my adaptability to the test. I recognize that everyone goes through hard times – that I’m not alone and that mine can actually help me grow as a person and become stronger.”
Forrest said he’s grateful to see how well the badge workshop is being received at Mason so far, with students from a wide variety of backgrounds taking part. “We have such a diverse group of students who have participated in all of the sessions that it shows that this is something that is attractive to the whole university.”
Meza said that it is “reassuring to see that a community, like Mason, has students talking about cultivating well-being because it shows you that we are not alone on the journey. … We are all creating our own story and being able to share how resilient we are makes us unique.”
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.