COBE Research Helps Freshmen Thrive

Growing up, Savannah Bekkers never loved sports but always cared about her health and wellness. Without the usual outlets for physical activity, she started practicing yoga in elementary school.

“I didn’t know what meditation was or anything like that,” Bekkers said. “I just liked yoga because I thought it was cool.”

As time went by, she found running as a second coping tool. Together, yoga and running gave her mind “time to unwind” from the stress of high school life. Without realizing it, Bekkers was using research backed techniques to support her mental and physical health. So naturally when she arrived at Virginia Commonwealth University, she wanted to learn more about staying healthy, which led her to sign up for THRIVE.

In the Fall of 2016, COBE launched THRIVE, a living-learning community that brought together a hallway of around 40 students to learn more about research on health and wellness in the classroom and in real life. Joining THRIVE includes enrollment in the Science of Happiness, a course that explores mental and physical health and positive psychology co-taught by a team of COBE researchers, and additional health and wellness programming developed by RA’s and COBE collaborators.

For Bekkers, the most important part of her experience in the THRIVE community was taking the Science of Happiness course in the fall. Her interest in yoga and running led her to especially appreciate learning about research on mindfulness and meditation.

“Mindfulness wasn’t something I knew about before the Science of Happiness, and now I see it all the time,” Bekkers said. “It was an epiphany like that every week for me.”

Bekkers also said the class was a welcome change from many of her other introductory classes both in size and in the depth of discussion about each topic.

“Freshman year is mostly big lecture classes, but the Science of Happiness never felt that way,” Bekkers said “I got to ask a lot of questions and further my learning. You don’t really get that opportunity in a lot of bigger classes.”

When she started college, Bekkers was in a perfect position to take her existing interest in health and wellness, apply the language to what she was doing and learn new ways to stay healthy. But as time passed, she saw many of her peers struggling with stress and other difficulties that arise in young adulthood.

“I wanted to communicate what I had learned to other people so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I made Freshman year,” Bekkers said. “I wanted to help create a community that was truly invested in exploring health and wellness together.” With those goals in mind she applied to be an RA with THRIVE.

“For many people, especially when you first get to college, wellness isn’t a priority whatsoever,” Bekkers said. “I know when I moved in I was scared that everyone was going to be super fit or that there’d be requirements about how often you had to go to the gym and stuff like that. But it wasn’t like that at all.”

In her second year with THRIVE, Bekkers works with COBE Administrative Director Marcie Walsh and VCU RecSports Wellness Coordinator Carrie Baines to create monthly programming for her hallmates. One of their first activities was taking a group trip to the gym and then to Belle Isle so they would know their way around campus.

“It’s important just to know where to go and how to access different things on campus,” Bekkers said. “It was really great hearing a few weeks later that most of my students had been back to the gym or Belle Isle multiple times since our first trip.”

Later in the semester her hall took a classes together at the gym to get to know each other better. Bekkers has also hosted scavenger hunts, presentations by VCU researchers and other activities. Beyond learning specific skills or promoting certain practices, Bekkers says that the most valuable part of THRIVE is its focus on translating research into real life applications.

“Joining THRIVE and taking the Science of Happiness is not a band-aid or a painkiller; it’s a set of preventative skills,” Bekkers said. “You don’t have to focus on feeling overwhelmed when you can see stress coming and know what to do.”

Learn more about THRIVE and other ways COBE translates research into student programming here.