Degree plans should nudge students toward better health

Trevor Hadley

Current initiatives to improve health care advocate for a shift to “whole person care” — where treatment plans incorporate the mental and emotional aspects of patient health, rather than focusing just on physical ailments. But health care isn’t the only arena that could stand to benefit from this type of paradigm shift.

Undergraduate education has a narrow focus on academic development and should be redesigned to address the needs of the “whole student.” We need to rethink degree plan designs and work to include more opportunities for personal development, make coursework that covers self-management, productivity optimization and resilience, an integral part of undergraduate education.    

Present coursework at UT does feature classes that cover personal growth topics, but the learning environments are largely didactic, not experiential. Few, if any, classes are geared toward the nuts and bolts of practical application. Unfortunately, even if courses were more pragmatic, it’s unlikely that students would find the time to take them.

As biology senior Jackie Keeler explains, additional course work can be tough to fit in with an already packed degree plan. 

“I found this course on mindfulness that sounded perfect for what I was looking for,” Keeler said. “I was reading a lot about meditation and how to manage stress, but there just wasn’t a way to work it in with everything else I had that semester.”

It should be noted, however, that UT does offer a number of personal growth and self-care resources outside of the traditional classroom setting. The Counseling and Mental Health Center features a MindBody Lab, which helps students to develop resiliency and stress management skills. And the Sanger Learning Center offers a number of classes on self management, such as “Study Smarter Not Harder” and “Time and Procrastination.”

But the overarching issue is not whether self-development resources exist or not. The problem is with accessibility and a lack of deep exposure. How can we, as UT’s core purpose states, “transform lives for the benefit of society,” if degree requirements don’t incorporate a “whole student” approach? The future success of students certainly depends as much on their ability to balance the rest of life’s challenges as it does on the knowledge base they build in college.

Yet, a proper solution does not include a blanket mandate to add more coursework. This would likely push back graduation for many and add more stress, rather than relieving it. And despite what the University might think is best, it’s still important for students to retain their right to choose what path they think is best for them. 

So I propose an approach that makes personal development course work more accessible while still maintaining student choice. Selected resources at Sanger and CMHC should be integrated into semester long course offerings which can count toward core requirements, and academic advisors should be trained to nudge students toward taking these classes.

This strategy would redesign the way choices are presented during the degree planning process, making it more likely for students to pursue personal development course work. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to start shifting toward “whole student” education. We need only to repackage current resources, and to present them in a more open and attractive way.

Hadley is a staff member in biology and a B.S. ‘15 in neuroscience from Southlake.