The transition to college is a big—and often stressful—leap for first-year students. How they respond to stress and change is directly related to academic performance, social connectedness, and future success. That’s why colleges and universities are invested in promoting academic resilience to help students overcome adversity and thrive in their learning environment.
Resilience is an essential part of one’s academic journey. At the same time, it’s a lifelong process that’s learned through failures, challenges, and reaching goals (to name a few). Resilience isn’t an innate trait that people either do or don’t have. It’s acquired over time as we rise to meet challenges.
Students who enter college with a strong sense of resilience may have grown up in environments where resilience was emphasized, or they faced adversity early on in life and they’ve learned to overcome and adapt in the midst of hardship. Others have yet to develop resilience but have every capacity to do so. This is where faculty and staff have a crucial role: to raise awareness of the importance of resilience, believe in students’ potential, and be available for students when they need support. And that’s only the start.
Academic Resilience in Action
The push toward academic resilience shows us the increasing need to support the wellbeing of students. That means taking into account the whole student beyond just academic success. Students also need the right mental, physical, and emotional support to grow in resilience. Many higher education institutions have developed innovative programs to help students do just that. Here are a few examples:
At MIT, Flipping Failure is “a campus-wide initiative to help students build resilience by hearing how their peers overcame challenges.” MIT students share stories of the challenges they’ve faced—from picking a degree path to mental health to struggling with grades—and how they came out on the other side. MIT utilizes storytelling as the powerful vehicle that it is to remind students they aren’t alone, encourage them to press on, and challenge them to view failure as an opportunity for growth.
Millersville University created the Academic Resilience Initiative, a storytelling initiative where faculty and staff members share their personal college experiences and the obstacles they faced. In turn, Millersville students are able to see themselves in the stories of those who have gone before them. These stories help students see faculty and staff as relatable, approachable role models and supporters of their education and career goals. Overall, the initiative is designed to improve retention and engagement while empowering students to succeed, even in the midst of difficulty.
The University of Washington Resilience Lab has developed a guidebook, “Well-Being for Life & Learning,” as a resource for faculty and staff looking to support students and promote resilience. The guidebook addresses teaching environments, belonging and connection, coping skills, and more so faculty and staff are equipped to support the whole student. Principles and practices from the guidebook are universal and can be drawn upon by any higher education institution.
NYU recently instituted the Academic Success Texts Program—a text message-based nudging campaign designed to encourage academic growth and provide students with the chance to openly communicate with a faculty member. They send quick tips, learning resources, and timely reminders to give students the tools they need right at their fingertips. Students can choose to reply if they need support and know someone who cares about their academic journey will respond. This Inside Higher Ed article is a great place to learn more about the program.
These are just a few of the thousands of programs colleges all around the world have designed to promote and improve resilience. We only see these programs getting stronger in the future.
These initiatives and the positive outcomes they have generated reveal how transformative faculty support can be. Professors, counselors, and advisors have a responsibility to be there for students when they need them. Students shouldn’t have to navigate college alone. They will always do better knowing someone is on their side and they can get reliable support when they need it most.
In the end, students who have developed academic resilience are more likely to achieve success, adapt to change, learn from failure, and persevere through setbacks.