Pioneering a paradigm shift on college campuses across the country, Azusa Pacific University hosted the first Thriving in College Conference, October 24–26, 2013. More than 100 researchers, faculty members, and student development professionals from 35 schools attended the event to learn about the latest research, best practices, and resources that will enable students to successfully transition from their first-year experience to graduation while thriving academically, socially, and emotionally.
Sponsored by APU’s Noel Academy for Strengths-Based Leadership and Education, the conference presented an expanded vision of college student success. Dynamic discussions and interactive workshops highlighted diversity of thought and generated ideas and strategies aimed at increasing retention and enriching opportunities for students to thrive during their college years. “A thriving college student is engaged in the learning process, invested in academics, and connected to others in healthy ways. They give back to the community and possess a positive perspective,” said Laurie Schreiner, Ph.D., keynote speaker, and professor and chair of the Department of Higher Education. “They are also able to reframe negative experiences, which is the focus of an intervention currently undergoing testing at APU. For instance, a student who receives an F on a test can either fall into a cycle of self-defeating behaviors that lead to compounded challenges, or reframe the situation by looking at it from other angles, such as: Did I study incorrectly or insufficiently? We focus on the students’ strengths and teach them how to use those strengths to become better learners, better researchers, and better employees.”
APU stands at the forefront of this movement in higher education, leading the way for other institutions to implement thriving strategies on their campuses. Conference attendees gained valuable insight and practical tools to begin similar programs at their home institutions. “I returned to my campus excited about helping students learn how to use their strengths in job interviews and to identify career choices that complement their strengths,” said Matthew A. Davenport, assistant director of residence life at Purdue University. “I proposed some specific interventions we can implement to help our students thrive. Attending the conference affirmed what I heard about APU’s reputation. The impact they have on students’ lives by using the strengths-based approach truly speaks to me as a professional in the field and validated my decision to pursue a Ph.D. at Azusa Pacific.”
“The relationship between students’ sense of community and their ability to thrive resonated most with me,” said Marie Wisner, dean of students and campus programs at Bethel University. “Through the plenary sessions and workshops, we saw how partnerships between service-learning and living-learning environments impact students’ sense of belonging, ownership, and connectedness. I returned to campus with one guiding question: How do we create a campus environment that students don’t want to leave?”
As movement pioneers, APU scholars refine the research and expand the scope of its applications, serving as the primary resource by facilitating dialogue, partnering with other schools, creating new interventions, identifying strategic areas of focus, and implementing measurement tools that will help all students thrive holistically and contribute to their field and the Kingdom with greater impact.