‘Educating the heart’ is focus of course on living a life of flourishing

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A course in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at Penn State is designed to assist students in cultivating their well-being and exploring what it means to live a life of flourishing. 

The course is part of the Student Flourishing Initiative, a multi-university collaboration, that at Penn State is led by Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Caring and Compassion in HDFS, and Mark Greenberg, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

The three-credit general education course, entitled “Art and Science of Human Flourishing,” is offered to first-year students at all three universities. At Penn State, the course (HDFS 197) is taught by Roeser and Gaby Winqvist, instructor of kinesiology. 

The course aims to help students contemplate the purpose of their lives and education, and what it means not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.

“This class was unlike any course I’ve ever taken before. It’s rare to go into a class and one of the first things they encourage you to do is just breathe. Usually they’re telling you to take out your notebooks, pencils, and it’s very routine,” according to a student who took the course in spring 2018, and participated in a focus group session about effectiveness of the course. 

Structured in a way that allows students to participate and learn in other places than just the classroom, the course includes a scientific and humanities lecture that students listen to at home each week, as well as training in contemplative practices like mindfulness and compassion in Friday labs. 

By adopting this “flipped format” with an emphasis on experiential learning, the course was purposefully designed to provide ample time for genuine discussion of what it means to live a life of flourishing, as well as specific time for developing skills like mindfulness and compassion, Roeser said.

Briana Blackwell describes the Art and Science of Human Flourishing course

Briana Blackwell, who took the Art and Science of Human Flourishing course in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), describes her experience with the course, taught by Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Caring and Compassion in HDFS, and Gaby Winqvist, instructor of kinesiology. The course is offered at University Park during the fall semester. 

One student said the class helped build confidence, stating in the focus group, “I’m a freshman, and this class helped me build my confidence. Slowly, but surely, I felt more confident. Then, in my other classes, I would feel comfortable talking to people, asking questions, going to office hours. No matter what your degree, I think this class is a good seed to lift people up in life.”

“The goal of this initiative is to put ‘educating the heart’ on the agenda of schools, colleges and universities everywhere, such that a new generation of young people will learn ethical skills alongside academic knowledge in ways that better enable them to address the significant global challenges of our times, and to do so in a way that marries personal well-being with social transformation,” Roeser said.

Other students said the course helped them question the way they thought about themselves in terms of personal growth, and enjoyed the small discussions which provided opportunities for them to share more personal insights about themselves, as well as receive feedback from other students. 

Another skill covered in the course is meditation, where students learn different types of meditation practices and choose which best suited them.

One student who took the course stated, “I’ve dealt with a lot of stress. And learning how to properly mediate and feeling comfortable around people has helped that. This class made it easier to adapt to stress levels and learn how to handle situations one at a time, rather than trying to tackle them all at once.”

Nick Demian shares his experience with the course, the Art and Science of Human Flourishing

Nick Demian took the Art and Science of Human Flourishing course in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at Penn State. The course aims to help students contemplate the purpose of their lives and education, and what it means not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish. The course is part of the Student Flourishing Initiative, a multi-university collaboration, that at Penn State is led by Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Caring and Compassion in HDFS, and Mark Greenberg, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

HDFS 197, Art and Science of Human Flourishing, is offered at University Park during the fall semester. 

Learn more about the Student Flourishing Initiative at centerhealthyminds.org/science/studies/contemplative-universities-alliance.

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Last Updated August 15, 2018