In 2016, Dr. Christy Tyndall was hired by the VCU Honors College to develop a course specifically geared toward Honors College students. This course, however, was not just any course. Inspired by the University College course, The Science of Happiness, Flourishing was born with the goal of promoting wellbeing and mindfulness in our high-achieving, first-year honors students. Quickly proving to be a huge success, the course has since continued to grow and evolve, with Dr. Tyndall becoming a full-time Assistant Professor for the Honors College in Fall 2018. She now heads up both the HONR 150: Flourishing course and the newly created, complementary Wellbeing Program.
Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Masters of Education in Counseling Psychology, and a Doctorate in Educational Psychology, Dr. Tyndall brings an undeniable passion for student wellbeing and success to the Honors College. Starting their first year in the Honors College, students are introduced to the concepts of personal wellbeing and mindfulness through the Flourishing curriculum. Although Flourishing shares some of the same course content as UNIV 291, Dr. Tyndall explains, “[Flourishing] has evolved over the last three years to specifically address the needs of Honors students.” As a result, “HONR 150 has consistently received positive feedback from students, and as I promise them on the first day of class, each student will learn something…at least one thing (and very likely many things) that they can put to use in promoting personal wellbeing.”
By grounding the entire course curriculum in evidence-based research, and in her own personal background as a licensed psychological counselor, Dr. Tyndall is able to fully engage her students and connect their needs and wants to hands-on, tangible wellbeing outcomes. As a result, she has already caught both campus and national attention. “Reactions to the program have been overwhelmingly positive! Each event is well-attended and student feedback has been glowing,” shares Dr. Tyndall proudly. “The Honors College is viewed as a leader on [the VCU] campus in proving wellbeing coursework and programming and I am pleased to work with campus partners including the Well. On a national level, we are innovative leaders in the area of student wellbeing and have been invited to share our model at the National Collegiate Honors College conference this fall.”
The mission and foundation of the Honors Student Wellbeing Program is simple but powerful: “The VCU Honors College Wellbeing Program promotes personal wellbeing and a sense of community among Honors College Students. Through engaging programming, coursework, and activities, the program promotes motivation and mindfulness to help students develop healthy strategies for coping with stress, anxiety, and maintaining better overall health and wellbeing. Student wellbeing is vital for academic success, a positive community, university vitality, and life satisfaction.” As such, Dr. Tyndall has created four key pillars to make that mission a reality: coursework, in-house programming, peer-to-peer education, and outreach.
Those pillars, clarifies Dr. Tyndall, “is an original model that I developed based on evaluating the needs of Honors College students and inspired by research in positive psychology, educational psychology, and learner-centered pedagogy.” Moreover, she continues, “I am working toward developing programs and activities in each of these areas that support wellbeing, create a sense of community, and promote engagement in the Honors College community, the VCU community, and beyond.”
Despite the program being relatively new, Dr. Tyndall has already established an impressive foundation with noticeable success. Focusing primarily on in-house programming this first year, with plans to later solidify a strong peer-to-peer education and outreach program starting in year two, Dr. Tyndall has worked diligently to put together an engaging, purposeful line-up of events. Each week, she leads an in-house event cleverly dubbed Wind Down Wednesday, which, in her words, is “Perfectly positioned, [as] it provides a mid-week respite for students.” Big hits for Wind Down Wednesday include Painting with Bob Ross, “Lego” of Stress, Peace through Pumpkins, and Zen through Zentangle. Other exciting activities have included a monthly Wellbeing Matters speaker series, Laughter Yoga with the RVA Laugh Club, and the Honors College Monument Ave 10K team. Wellbeing tips, hitting on all different aspects of mental and physical health, are also shared in each Honors College Weekly Update.
Just as importantly, Dr. Tyndall works hard to make sure that each student feels recognized and heard, even soliciting their feedback about which programming activities they would most like to see going forward. Student-requested, and even created, programming for the upcoming school year will include an Honors College Day of Fitness and, brought back by popular demand, De-stressing with Dogs, both of which were inspired by students’ Flourishing “Plan for Positivity” final projects.
When asked what the most rewarding aspect of her job is, Dr. Tyndall brings it right back around to the students. “The most rewarding part of this role,” she shares, “is working with Honors College students and seeing their amazing growth. It is truly a joy to work with this outstanding group of individuals. A handful of the first students to take Flourishing graduated this spring and I was moved and thrilled when they shared that techniques learned in the class helped them to flourish throughout their time in college.”
Finally, though, the biggest impression is not made on Dr. Tyndall alone; it’s made on the students themselves. As one student explains, “I think that what I learned in the course will help me throughout my college years and beyond. Learning how to deal with stress in such a high-stress environment is the main takeaway that I got in this class…Had I not taken this class, I feel that I might not be doing as well as I am in my other courses. Currently, I'm on track to getting nearly all A's this semester, and I think that a lot of that has to do with the material presented in Flourishing.”
The Honors College thanks Dr. Tyndall for all of her hard work, dedication, and unequivocal commitment to her students. We can’t wait to see all of the phenomenal things she does and the lasting impacts she makes through Flourishing and the Wellbeing Program from here!