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Credit: Kasra Koushan

This week, representatives from 117 other universities, including Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard, congregated at Penn to discuss wellness and academic resilience.

Penn hosted the inaugural Symposium on Academic Resilience in Higher Education on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20. The Symposium, which was part of the larger Resilience Consortium, was made possible thanks to the donation of 1987 Wharton graduate and 2016 Harvard alumnus Robert Friedman. The Consortium is an association of faculty, professionals, and students in higher education, and its founding members include Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Penn.  

Nic Voge, founding member of the Consortium and senior associate director at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University, said the goal of the Symposium is to create a place where practitioners such as counselors, learning centers, student life professionals, and researchers can come together to share ideas and initiatives on academic resilience. 

"This symposium is the first of its kind," said Matthew Lee, Nursing Ph.D. student and graduate liaison for Penn Wellness. “It’s not the place where you will find all the answers. It’s the place where you're starting to ask the questions.”

Academic resilience is “using disappointment as a growth opportunity,” said Myrna Cohen, founding member of the Consortium and executive director of the Weingarten Center. She added that fostering academic resilience is consistent with Penn's focus on wellness.

Penn students have been discussing academic resilience through wellness initiatives such as PennFaces, a website that is an online forum for students to connect with one another on issues like stress and failure. Their ongoing Resilience Project started in 2016.  

At the symposium, a student panel discussed cultures on college campuses that weaken resilience. 

“Students are competing with who has more stress, who sleeps less, who has more exams,” said Engineering junior Yasmina Al Ghadban, who described the unhealthy competitive culture at Penn during the panel. 

Another challenge that the symposium discussed is the current generation's tech-driven and social media lifestyle that institutions' practitioners have never experienced.  

“We are looking at students who are having experiences so different [than ours]. We don’t know how to fix it,” said Adina Glickman, founding member of the Consortium and director of Student Learning Strategy Programs at Stanford University. “How are students to make sense of what’s important, what to focus on? It’s like you are trying to climb a mountain of sand but they keep pouring more sand on top.”

During the student panel, junior Neha Basti from Northwestern University said, “One down side that comes with technology and internet is that there’s no turning off the work. No turning off your social life.”

Part of the solution that the Resilience Consortium Steering Committee emphasized during their panel discussion was the relationship between the individual and the institution. The panel emphasized that universities have a responsibility to help struggling students. 

“We have to take ownership as an institution,” Glickman said.

The Consortium also pointed out that students already have resilience within them, and the challenge is how to channel this resilience.

“Students come with incredible reserves of resilience,” said Voge, who added that helping students realize how they have been resilient is part of the process.