UGS classes need to include important life skills

Neha Dronamraju

Can you pay attention in class if you haven’t eaten in two days?

Most people can’t. Students often neglect physical well-being when working toward academic success. In my case, regular eating habits are the first thing to go when I’m busy. My schedule doesn’t permit frequent visits to the dining hall, and although my dorm has a kitchenette, I don’t know how to cook anything.

I didn’t learn this life skill when I lived at home, so I would appreciate the opportunity to do so at school. UT, through signature courses, does a good job holistically advancing academic skills. Every UGS class curriculum must incorporate certain essential elements including interdisciplinary and contemporary content, critical thinking and oral communication. 

But these signature courses fall short of comprehensively addressing skills that support physical well-being. Life skills should be added to the list of required elements.

Eliana Salinas, a Plan II and sociology freshman, lives off-campus and experienced a difficult transition to living by herself and incorporating healthy habits.

“I think we need to relearn everything we thought we knew how to do when we come to college,” Salinas said. “We’re all struggling with something that seems so elementary. I think incorporating things like nutrition and exercise and how to time manage while maintaining those two aspects would be valuable in classes.”

Lori Holleran Steiker, Steve Hicks professor of addiction, recovery and substance abuse services, and director of instruction, engagement and wellness in the School of Undergraduate Studies, is spearheading an effort to better integrate self-efficacy in signature courses.

Holleran Steiker teaches a signature course called Young People and Drugs. Students come to her office hours and divulge their mental and physical health struggles. She mentioned that her TAs noticed students were coming to class smelling like alcohol. Students were not performing to their academic potential.

“Can someone learn if they’re falling asleep in my classroom?” Steiker said. “If someone’s coming so hungry that their stomach is growling and they’re lightheaded, will they be able to get everything they need out of my class? No. It doesn’t matter if I’m the best teacher on the planet. If we’re not concurrently paying attention to the holistic aspect of wellness, then we’re really missing the mark.”

Integrating life skills into the signature course curriculum doesn’t require any complicated resources — just information. According to Patty Moran Micks, director of the First-Year Experience Office, professors propose topics they want to teach as a signature course. The First-Year Experience Office reviews the applications to see if the proposed class fits their model, and if they approve it, the class will be offered as a signature course. 

Introducing physical wellness into a signature curriculum could be as simple as informing faculty that it is a necessity. To take it a step further, the First-Year Experience Office could include it as an essential element and require faculty to integrate it into their UGS classes. Academic achievement and well-being are closely tied together. In order to promote holistic success for students, the First-Year Experience Office should mandate that professors teach general life skills in their UGS courses.

“We welcome many new students every year,” Holleran Steiker said. “And what a missed opportunity it would be not to say to them, ‘In order to do well at UT, you need to be looking at not just your intellectual pursuits but your health pursuits.’” 

Dronamraju is a public health freshman from Dallas.