USC hopes to expand mindfulness curriculum

Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention Varun Soni launched Mindful USC in 2014. (Jonathon Xue/Daily Trojan)

USC’s occupational therapy course, “THRIVE: Foundations of Well-Being,” is only in its second semester. But students and faculty hope the class, which teaches students self-care and time management, will become a staple for all incoming students.

In collaboration with the Undergraduate Student Government, the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention is planning to create more classes to help students manage stress, improve well-being and connect with the USC community.

Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention Varun Soni said he recognized a need to improve the social connections and well-being of USC students who have come to his office asking for help.

“I have noticed over the last five or six years how lonely students have become,” Soni said. “Even though we are in an age where everyone is connected to each other digitally, we are also in a time where people feel disconnected to each other interpersonally …  [These classes are] really a way to think about connection, friendship and community building, etc., because college is such a great opportunity to grow in one’s personal relationships.”

Varun and marketing professor Allen Weiss launched Mindful USC in September 2014 to offer classes to USC students, staff and faculty who wish to improve their individual well-being and interpersonal networks.

The Mindfulness Lab, where Mindful USC offers five-week classes for one hour each week, was designed to create and incorporate effective and ongoing mindfulnesses practices in all aspects of life.

“Mindfulness helps people get in contact with themselves to deal with the difficult emotions that they have, helps them deal with the difficult thinking that they have [and] helps them connect to other people,” said Weiss, a senior teacher at InsightLA, a mindfulness center in Los Angeles. “It is a way to meet other people and interact, so it decreases loneliness and the negative feelings that people have.”

Associate professor Ashley Uyeshiro Simon and assistant professor Kate Crowley from the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy teach an undergraduate course focused on recent developments in occupational therapy and occupational science. The course, called “THRIVE,” is a one-unit, no homework class for students to grow spiritually and establish friendships with peers.

USG President Debbie Lee, a junior majoring in political science, said she encourages students to enroll in the class. She said she enjoyed the course last semester because it was broken down into beneficial topics like time management through which students were able to reflect on daily schedules and priorities.

“When I was taking the course, what I found most impactful was being able to gain new perspective through discussion [about] big ideas, such as civility and spirituality, with other students,” Lee wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Additionally, I loved the practical piece incorporated into the course.”

Because it is in its piloting phase, “THRIVE” is still being developed through collaboration from USG, the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention and the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Students who take “THRIVE” this semester will be able to provide feedback on the course’s content and practices for students in the future.

“We are doing all this program evaluation because we are literally shaping this course week-to-week based on student feedback,” Uyeshiro Simon said.  “We are certainly making a lot of change in the Fall of 2019 based on what people tell us is great and not so great based on this semester and last semester.

Uyeshiro Simon is encouraging students from all backgrounds including international students, veterans and students involved in cultural centers to enroll in a course to receive more diverse feedback from the student body.  

“If [“THRIVE”] is going to have the breadth and the reach that it needs to have, first of all, we really need student representation from all different areas of USC,” Uyeshiro Simon said. “Students should sign up for it now because … they are going to make a lasting impact at USC through their feedback in this course.”

With the help of the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, USG and the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention, have begun to imagine a class that introduces all incoming students to the value of habits that increases the University’s well-being in general.

Soni said he was interested in creating a course for incoming students with input from current students about what they wish they had known. “THRIVE” is one step towards realizing such a class in the future, he said.

“We work with [USG] pretty extensively on this,” Soni said.  “It is in some ways a gift from students to new students. ‘[THRIVE]’ is a more ambitious curricular initiative. … There are some experiences and tools that we can provide to students in their first year, that will not just positively shape their well-being throughout college, but throughout their life.”

As a USG student representative, Lee hopes that “THRIVE” will benefit students as individuals, as well as the entire USC community. Lee said she believes it is an avenue for current and incoming students to thrive in their college career and life in beyond.

“‘THRIVE’ gives students the space to breathe, slow down and think about what thriving looks like in college and beyond,” Lee said. “ Take this course to grow as a person, build new perspective and form incredible friendships.”