Reflection Practice #countsaswork

by Anna Bentley

One of the most important meetings I have at work is one you might not expect. Since July 2021, the professional staff in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center have established a practice of synchronous, individual reflection and writing time, which is scheduled every other week for one hour. Originally, this began as a way to think about our work in a different way and potentially find threads of interest for content for The Success Kitchen, though there has never been any obligation to produce anything. This is a completely voluntary space where folks are free to reflect and write about whatever they choose.

Here’s how it works. First, we check in with each other briefly, and then we leave the meeting to reflect and write for 40 minutes. There are prompts to guide us if we want to use them, but we are free to write about anything we choose. After 40 minutes, we rejoin the meeting and take turns sharing as much or as little as we want about what we wrote.

Example prompts:

  1. What is something a student has said or shared recently that you’d like to think more about or reflect on?
  2. Talk about a recent leadership experience that’s on your mind. What was meaningful to you about that experience? If there were any challenges, how did you work through them?
  3. What’s a favorite memory from your own learning experiences (in any context)? What made that experience valuable and important to you?

Through writing and reflection, we make space to generate ideas and insights, process experiences and emotions, deepen our awareness and understanding, make meaning and connections, feed creative energy, and develop our writing skills. I certainly have benefited from our collective reflection time. Before this, I had never had a writing practice, and I used to feel intimidated by a blank page. Now I find joy in writing freely and have grown more confident in my writing skills. I’ve used the time to write about work, draft articles like this for The Success Kitchen, journal and process emotions, make goals and lists, and even write poetry and fiction.

It’s been a gift to explore many facets of writing without any obligation to produce or perform, and it’s positively impacted the way I work. A few months ago, I began supervising a team of student staff after going many years without supervising anyone. I’ve used our reflection practice to unpack and discover my values around how I show up as a supervisor, a colleague, a parent, and a friend. Having the time to intentionally articulate who I want to be has made a difference in my relationships and my journey as a supervisor.

Beyond the practice of writing, what has made our reflection practice particularly powerful is what we get out of sharing with each other. Any of us could write on our own, but doing this together and sharing allows us to make connections and offer support to each other. Listening to my colleagues’ reflections inspires me and leads us to exploring ideas we otherwise may not have considered. We sometimes find, coincidentally, that our reflections are related, and we generate new ideas by hearing each other’s perspectives. Sometimes we share the emotions and challenges we’re experiencing, and our colleagues support us through that. Perhaps that is what I love the most about reflection and sharing – that it can be whatever kind of space you want or need it to be in that moment, and we’re able to connect on a different level than we can in other spaces.

As a unit, we find meaning in processing what we’re experiencing, articulating our ideas, sharing with each other, validating what each of us brings to the table, and supporting each other as whole people. To make this a reality, we put this on our calendars and count this as work. I’m energized by this practice, excited to see what’s possible, and curious to hear what beautiful, powerful ideas others have within them.

Tales from Adventures Emailing First-Year Students in Fall

by Sarah Norek

Part of my role at the Academic Success Center includes drafting and sending the Transition Communication Campaign (TCC) emails to all incoming first year (FY) and new-to-OSU students. It’s one of my very favorite projects to work on and learn from, and offers a lot to consider and explore.

For folks unfamiliar with the TCC, I begin emailing students in their first term at OSU, and continue throughout the entirety of their first academic year (here’s an example from week 2). Content is timely to each week in the term and covers academic support and advising information; resource spotlights; and processes, strategies and tools. Messages are sent via Marketing Cloud using student lists created through Banner, and emails go out each Sunday as well as the Wednesday before add/drop deadlines.

During Academic Year 2022, we wanted to look more closely at the FY engagement with emails throughout fall 2021. To do this, we used reports from Marketing Cloud to determine students who received all 13 messages (a total of 3596 students), we looked at patterns of engagement (opens and clicks), and we also invited folks to participate in focus groups or complete a brief survey. We learned so much! It was so much fun! And a lot of what we learned was counter to what I’d thought to be true, which was delightful and curious and exciting. Here are some of my favorite perception shifts:

  • I thought students weren’t opening emails, but when we looked at reports, it turns out that they were: 69% of students opened 8 or more of the TCC messages in fall, and about 25% of students opened all 13!
  • I didn’t expect students to return to the messages, but the average opens per messages was two; and, on average, 41% of students opened the messages two, three, or four times. Students found reason to revisit the content.
  • I was pretty sure receiving duplicate information would be a total turn-off. In our focus groups, students shared that they’d received similar messaging from other sources (at times ahead of the TCC’s arrival), but also shared they still found value in the campaign, even if it was redundant, especially for students who might not be getting this content elsewhere.
  • I was under the impression that the email’s organizational sections were more for me and my drafting process, but it turns out that students used the sections too, as signposts to focus their content consumption.
  • I was convinced my subject lines were boring (and I don’t think what I learned means they aren’t). I started each subject line with the week in the term, a move that felt uninspiring but also helped with my organization process. Lo and behold, students shared that they appreciated the naming of the week because it helped orient them within the term.
  • I’d had a feeling that the messages were too long, but continued to draft under the (old? outdated? incorrect?) impression that folks were willing to scroll; students said that, no, the messages were too long (especially when accessed via phone), so much so that certain sections were never reached. Noted!
  • Even though I focused most of my energy on the body of the message, the two sections folks went to most were Important Deadlines, at the top of the emails (highlighting deadlines for registration, change of grading basis, course changes, etc.), and Upcoming Opportunities at the end of the email (naming events, engagement opportunities, workshops, etc.).

Are these all the ways I felt surprised and delighted by the data? Nope. Do I wish we could’ve heard from each of the 3596 students who received the 13 total messages? I do. But still, we learned a bunch! And, I think what we learned could contribute to conversations and thinking around how campus communicates with students, how to be effective in our communications, and how to encourage engagement. This fall I’ve made changes to our TCC messages based on last year’s learning; already I’ve noticed higher open and click-through rates, and I’m totally pumped to see how engagement plays out for the rest of the year. More data to consider! More questions to ask! I’m not excited, you are!

New Book on Studying Lands in January

by Clare Creighton

I had the opportunity last week to connect with Dr. Regan Book cover for Study Like a Champ by Regan A.R. Gurung and John Dunlosky. Cover includes a picture of a brain lifting weightsGurung, Psychology Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning here at OSU about his upcoming book Study Like a Champ: The Psychology-Based Guide to “Grade A” Study Habits. Coming in January from the American Psychological Association’s LifeTools Series, Study Like a Champ aims to equip students with tools and information to improve their approach to college-level learning. Regan collaborated with a former colleague from the University of Washington, Dr. John Dunlosky, combining their strengths from lab-based cognition research, college classroom research, and decades of university teaching experience.

For Regan, that’s what feels particularly special about this book. In the field of cognitive science there is a lot of information available about effective studying and learning, but not much of it makes it into a format that is accessible for students who in their busyness wouldn’t have time to weed through dense scientific journal articles (my words, not Regan’s) or books written primarily for educators. With years of teaching experience, Regan is excited to bring specific strategies to students based on what he’s learned working with college students in the classroom. This practical classroom setting has prepared him to frame strategies in a way that students can use.

Two of the concepts discussed in “Study Like a Champ” are spaced practice and retrieval practice. Spaced practice refers to the act of spreading out learning/studying sessions over time to allow memory consolidation to take place, which is more effective than cramming. Retrieval practice is the technique of trying to recall information without reminders or visual cues. Instead of looking at something and feeling like you know it, you actually test yourself to see if you can recall that information without looking at it. Learning about spaced practice or retrieval practice is useful, but Regan says he wanted to make sure students knew how to do those things as well. Regan shared with me that he used to mention retrieval practice in his psychology classes, but now he goes a step further to ensure that students understand what he means and how to do that, and get to experience it through the course design. For example, students in his intro psych class get to practice information recall every class period.

According to Regan, the goal of this book is to “provide students with the latest cognitive science on how to learn effectively and efficiently, in a way that translates jargony science into practical information they can use immediately after reading.”

I like the idea of giving students more information about what effective studying looks like, backed-up by research and information from the field of psychology. That’s one of our primary goals in the Academic Success Center and we work on this through different programs (the Learning Corner, ALS 116, Academic Coaching, Supplemental Instruction). What excites me about this book is the conversations it invites.

Like Regan, I see possibilities for conversations about studying happening across campus. If students, faculty, and staff are better equipped with the language of effective study strategies, we can have more conversations about studying and integrate it into our work. Planning, note-taking, and learning happen beyond the classroom as well which makes information about how we learn relevant to everyone. Myths about learning styles and other learning practices are pervasive and the antidote in my mind is in this book and other sources that provide practical information on what works and what doesn’t.

When “Study Like a Champ” is released in January, I’ll be reading it and thinking of how to get this information in the hands of students. Maybe it’s new content for the Learning Corner, maybe it’s a student staff meeting on the topic of studying, or reviewing the orientation content from our OSU Welcome event. I’ve requested the OSU Libraries purchase this text once it releases and I offer an invitation here to each of you for further conversation about how to integrate these concepts into our work with students.

Building a “New Normal” at the Academic Success Center & Writing Center

by Chris Gasser

Grey clouds, early sunsets, drivers cutting each other off at the Harrison Bridge; for the first time in two years, things almost look normal at Oregon State. As we return to campus it is easy to forget that we just spent the last two years in higher ed. surviving, both in a literal and figurative sense. Throughout the emergency measures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a strong sense (and a lot of anxiety) about what the new normal would look like. At the Academic Success Center & Writing Center, we spent a lot of time thinking about how we could create something new and better, rather than returning to how things were. We heard it a lot, “we can’t go back to the way things were”, and we embraced that.  One overarching question we found helpful was “what have we done differently during the COVID-19 pandemic that was better than what we were doing before?” This question, combined with specific questions focused on important areas of our work, led us to these strategies:

  • Prioritizing health for student staff and participants over service delivery and numbers
    • Do our policies and practices encourage staff to come to work when sick or students to access services when sick? How and where might we change/impact that behavior?
  • Seeking out employee feedback in major (and minor) decisions
    • What decisions are we making about student staff and service delivery? Do people affected by our decisions have an opportunity to inform those decisions? When and how are we inviting feedback from student staff?
  • Delivering clear guidance and processes on valuable resources for our community
    • What information might not be getting to students? How can we use our platforms as supervisors and program leaders to support students in understanding and navigating policies and resources? What messaging can we proactively highlight and signal boost to the benefit of student staff?
  • Focusing on community— building relationships within our teams and with our campus partners
    • What are we doing to foster relationships amongst our team? How do we create a sense of community and belonging across modalities? How often does community building show up as a part of our agendas and structured time?
  • Creating a culture of support where staff and students are encouraged to bring their humanity, with all the messiness that it involves
    • What do we convey to students about the way their lives show up in their work? What space do we make for sharing about their lives outside of work? How do we define professionalism in a way that lets them be autonomous human beings and not robots?

While we don’t suggest that we are perfect, in our return to campus or otherwise, we are excited that our new normal is a more compassionate one. It’s more nuanced, more human. We value flexibility, intentionality, and sometimes saying no when our plates are full. We’ve done a lot of thinking about the new normal we want to create. We share some of that thinking in our annual report, and we invite you to read it here.

Increasing Motivation through Behavioral Activation

by Anna Bentley

Behavioral activation is a common approach to treating depression that involves improving mood by engaging in pleasurable or rewarding activities. These behaviors disrupt the cycle of inactivity that fuels and prolongs depression. Behavioral activation strategies can vary for everyone, but may include things like writing in a journal, going out for coffee, hiking, or watching a movie with a friend.

You don’t need to be experiencing depression to benefit from behavioral activation. The same strategies that improve our mood also help prevent burnout and increase productivity at work or school when we’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or unmotivated. Here are the steps to practice this approach:

  1. Identify activities that bring you pleasure. There are several activity lists online that can be used for inspiration, or you can make your own list from scratch. If using a pre-made list, start by highlighting the activities you really enjoy and that reliably bring you pleasure. Cross off the things that aren’t for you.
  2. Rate the activities you identified by how easy they are to complete and how rewarding they are. This worksheet can help you complete this. For me, I found that sitting down for a fresh cup of coffee is very easy for me to complete but has short-lived rewards, while going on a long hike is highly rewarding yet more difficult to complete.
  3. Schedule activities that will give you positive experiences in your day. Here’s another tool you can use to schedule these activities, or you can use our weekly calendar. Start with simple activities that are easiest to integrate into your day, and build from there. You might start by just adding one rewarding activity in the morning, building that routine, and then adding more activities over time.

A core principle behind why behavioral activation works is that action often precedes emotion. Sometimes at work or at school, we want to wait until we’re motivated before we start a project. However, the action of engaging in a rewarding activity can give us the energy we need to fuel our work. Maybe you’ve had an experience where you found yourself more vibrant and energized once you got going on a project, even though you were initially reluctant to start.

Next time you notice a lack of motivation or the temptation to procrastinate, I invite you to consider how you can bring pleasure into the experience. Here are a few rewarding activities that I sometimes schedule into my day while I’m working on campus:

  • Start the day with a fresh cup of coffee, and take a minute to really savor it before starting my work.
  • Write down my intention for the day as soon as I get into the office.
  • Listen to a special Spotify playlist whenever I’m completing a repetitive task.
  • Have walking meetings with my colleagues when possible.
  • Go on a short walk around campus during my lunch break. Sometimes I like to visit a building I’ve never been inside before, or I like to take pictures of beautiful things I discover on campus, like trees, flowers, and artwork.
  • Send an email to campus partners I haven’t spoken with for a while, just to say hello.
  • Doodle in my notebook between back-to-back meetings for a quick mental reset.

Intentionally integrating these pleasurable and rewarding activities into my day gives me the boost of energy I need when I’m feeling unmotivated. What activities bring you energy, help clear your mind, or inspire inspiration? What would it look like to schedule those activities into your work? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

Benefits of SI for Students Retaking Courses

by Chris Gasser

As many of you know, Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic support program that offers peer-led, collaborative, group, study tables for historically challenging courses. In Fall 2021, SI underwent a significant expansion, which allowed us to do some pretty cool analyses, focusing on students who were retaking courses.


A common criticism of SI data is that the program is based on an opt-in model, which means that our impact data is always subject to self-selection bias. The criticism suggests that it is possible that only the most successful students may opt in to SI, skewing impact data in favor of SI. In an effort to better understand SI’s impact while trying to account for this possibility, I performed an analysis of students retaking courses. By focusing only on a retaking population, I hoped to minimize any effect from the most successful students, assuming that retaking a course demonstrated a certain level of academic difficulty.


For all SI supported courses in AY 21-22, I pulled the course grades for all students enrolled in the courses. I then pulled the most recent course grade for anyone who had previously taken the course at OSU and received a course grade. This gave me a list of 1,949 students who were retaking courses that SI supported in AY 21-22. Of those 1949, 1382 had previously earned an A-F course grade, and 567 had previously earned a W grade. I focused on these two populations in the analysis.


Here are a few of the key results from the analysis of students retaking courses.

Among students who previously earned a course grade, students who completed SI earned a higher course grade than students who did not participate in SI.

Line graph showing both groups starting at 0.71 for their previously earned course grade average. Students who completed SI earned a course grade of 2.29, while students who did not participate earned a 1.77 average.

When looking at the first grade that students earned, both students who later completed SI (attended 4+ times) and students who did not use SI earned the same course average of .71 in their previous attempt at the class. This was a good indication that there was similarity between the groups. When looking at their subsequent grades, students who did not participate in SI earned a new average of 1.77. For students who did complete SI, their new average was 2.29—a difference of .52 grade points, or a half of a grade point higher than the average for students who did not participate in SI.

SI made a meaningful impact on the number of students passing the course

While SI helps students earn higher course grades, the boxplots tell an interesting story: in both analyses the SI 4+ 25% quartile ends at 1.7 (C-), which is the mean of the No SI groups. Not only do we see students in SI earning higher average (mean and median) course grades, we also see a much lower number of students below that 1.7 threshold. This provides evidence that SI both helps students earn higher course grades and increases the number of students who pass the class.

Boxplot showing students who participated in SI, and had previously earned a grade A-F, had a higher median course grade and a more narrow distribution most noticeable on the lower tail- suggesting a greater effect at lower course points.   Boxplot showing Si complete students who had previously earned a W, had a higher median course grades and a more narrow distribution most noticeable on the lower tail- suggesting a greater effect at lower course points.

Among students who previously earned a W, students who completed SI earned a higher course grade than students who did not participate in SIBar graph comparing subsequent course grade average for students who previously earned a W.  SI 4+ students earned a course grade average .49 grade points higher than their non-SI peers.

A common idea on campus is that students who earn a W grade should not be included in analyses with students who earn a D/F, because students may withdraw from a course for reasons outside of academic difficulty. Separating this group out, we still see a similar effect in mean course grade: for students who completed SI, an average grade increase of .49 higher than students who did not participate.

Discussion/ Conclusions

Focusing on this narrow population allows us to compare data among students who may have more in common while also avoiding any skewing effect of our highest achieving students. What we see is strong evidence for the efficacy of the SI program, especially for students retaking courses. The effect on students’ course grades was even more pronounced in this analysis than a separate analysis for students not retaking the course, which prompts me to think more about how we get students retaking courses in to SI early. It also makes me wonder if we might better support our students retaking courses through building out a more robust support structure (of which, SI could be a part). There is more to this report than I can share here, and I would love to chat with you in more detail about my process and findings. If you’re interested in hearing more, interested in new ways to assess student success, or interested in thinking about how we better support our retaking students, please reach out. I’d love to chat (

Onboarding Student Employees

by Clare Creighton

September is a common time for onboarding student employees, and across the Academic Success Center and Writing Center, we brought on 37 new student employees this fall. In the next few months, we’ll be reflecting on the training we delivered, assessing the experience for student staff, and identifying any changes for the next round. We asked some of our new employees what they appreciated in their onboarding experience, and this is what they shared with us:

  1. It was emphasized to us that the best way to learn is by doing. I was relieved to know I don’t have to be any sort of expert before starting my job!
  2. I have really enjoyed that you guys have created a safe space for us to learn how to do something new without judgement. I feel like I can learn better and quicker in an environment that doesn’t punish me for making a mistake, especially when I’m learning something new.
  3. The time we spent to get to know the other student staff members—community and support for each other was and continues to be part of the ASC’s core values!
  4. I loved the emphasis on validation and praise, and how our jobs not only revolve around the writing process, but also around instilling confidence in the writer and their abilities.
  5. I appreciated that I was able to interact and train with returning [peer leaders] since it allowed me to start getting to know everyone and not feel isolated on my first day of leading tables.
  6. I liked that our training incorporated both individual work from canvas and group sessions over zoom and in person. This gave me the chance to get comfortable with the material on my own, and then help build a community with my coworkers.
  7. The room to make mistakes I had while onboarding for coaching contributes to the majority of the skills I use in coaching today!
  8. I have really appreciated the support and encouragement along the way. Putting in the effort to at least know all our names and check in every now and then when we’re in between tables is a great way to make us feel like an actual person, not just an employee!
  9. The training for my position was done in a way that allowed me to connect with, practice, and discuss with other students as we all learned from each other and together.
  10. I appreciated how training established early on that everyone is a writer, and that the most important thing a consultant can do is encourage. I found the focus on empowerment to be a very refreshing and reassuring framework.

Do you onboard student staff in your role? We enjoy conversation about training and supporting student employees and would love to exchange ideas with you. We’re also eager to make folks aware of the open source online training modules “Introduction to Student-Centered Peer Education” that we use in training. Email Clare Creighton to start a conversation.

ASC & Writing Center Staff Picks

The middle of the term can be a challenging time for students—especially as midterms begin and schedules get even busier than they already were. We asked ASC & Writing Center staff to respond to the following prompt: “As we approach the middle of the term, what is a support strategy, Learning Corner resource, or campus resource that you feel students could benefit from during weeks 4-6 of the term, and why?”


As your students prepare for midterms and weekly quizzes, consider helping them recognize the range of active studying techniques they can use beyond re-reading notes. Re-reading helps learners practice memorization, but leaves them vulnerable to forgetting key concepts without notes in hand. On exams, students are challenged by recall. In order to recall information effectively, it’s important that learners use many different ways of practicing that information. Help students use their notes in new ways (e.g., build models, make drawings, explain to their friends). New engagement practices critical thinking and helps students retain information longer—valuable for any cumulative finals they may have!


The middle of the term is a great time for students to reflect, recalibrate, and get organized. Some of those larger assignments will be due within the coming weeks, so now’s the perfect time for backwards planning and making time to complete projects without waiting until the last minute. Procrastination can creep in as assignments and exams ramp up, and getting organized can help students stay motivated and on track. Our weekly to-do list, weekly calendar, and term-at-a-glance are popular tools that can be used to map out sub-goals and smaller deadlines for large projects or prep for exams without cramming.

Chris E.

I would be remiss if I didn’t choose the Writing Center as a resource that’s especially useful. During weeks 4-6, when students might start big writing projects, the Undergrad Research & Writing Studio in the Valley Library offers space for students to write among a community of writers with writing consultant support. Students can spend time in the Studio writing, reading, or researching, and then call a consultant over for a quick consultation—no appointment needed. Students who make the Studio their home base for writing will benefit as they’ll be advancing writing projects while also building successful project habits.

Chris G.

Weeks 4-6 are a good time to remind students about tutoring resources which can help clear up misconceptions about course material so far. We know that students commonly overestimate their knowledge at the beginning of the term, and weeks 4-6 are often weeks when students realize they need help. We can assure them that it’s not too late, especially if the end of the class is point and concept heavy. Some potential tutoring resources are the Mole Hole, Worm Hole, Econ Tutoring Lab, Math and Statistics Learning Center, and there is still room in some SI Study Tables!


Week 5 is half-way through the term and a great chance to recalibrate how we’re using time and for what. Completing the time-log worksheet can shed light on where students’ time is going and open up possibilities for what to do next. Need to spend more time studying or missing routine self-care? Students can work with a coach to build that into their schedule. Need to adjust their work schedule or family commitments? The insights from the time log sheet can be a starting point for those conversations.


The middle of the term can be hectic and is a great time to check in on how students are feeling and if they’re making time for study and for relaxation. Break Ideas from the ASC shares fun ways to take a break. I share this visual and invite students or student staff to share their favorite break activities and plan for times when breaks would be most useful in the upcoming week. I also share how I enjoy taking breaks—particularly my love of Tetris 99 and how satisfying it is to watch all the little tetrominoes fall into place.


As the weeks fly by, I think it can be helpful to connect with students about resources that can support their health and well-being. Juggling everything can be stressful, and studying and concentration take a lot of energy. Remind folks about, or introduce them to, the Basic Needs Center’s Healthy Beaver Bags (one of several food resources the BNC helps students access). Students can pick up a bag of groceries each Friday with a recipe to try! There’s nourishment and adventures in cooking and opportunity to meet the great folks in the BNC!


Did you know the Mind Spa in CAPS has a plethora of resources, including a higher-end massage chair, biofeedback programs, a Buddha board, and a robust set of anytime online resources for those attending virtually? Any member of the OSU community can schedule time there. We all do better work when we are recharged and refreshed, and with all the options in the Mind Spa, there’s something for everyone! Students might consider signing up for an appointment as a study break, to settle in before a midterm, or to relax for a good night’s sleep.

Further Reflections on Supporting Yourself in a Support Role

by Carl Conner & Sarah Norek

Back in December, Carl and Sarah (we) engaged in a loosely structured conversation over Zoom with a few other folks who hold formal support roles. We wanted to explore what it meant to support ourselves in support roles (you can read our article about it here).

In this article, we reflect on what it’s meant to continue to meet with, and expand on, this conversation group. We’ve gained much from these meetings and are grateful to those who have shared their stories and their time. Below, in an informal interview style together, we share some planning ideas as well as what we consider to be the benefits of such a group, in case other folks on campus are interested in or thinking about these kinds of conversation groups too.

What have you observed across meetings?

Carl: Going into the first meeting, I did not know what to expect! As someone who often struggles to maintain my energy levels, I was particularly surprised to feel so energized after the group met. It was also surprising to me how universal that feeling was, even throughout different meetings with new voices joining the group. I felt tremendous gratitude for the sense of connection and validation that these conversations offered, and I was doubly grateful to hear other members of the group reciprocate that gratitude. Given the range of backgrounds, roles, and professions we have in the group, to foster such a strong sense of reciprocity felt truly special.

Sarah: We’ve met a few different times now, and I think something I’ve noticed each time is that it feels okay to be quiet, and to engage in messy thinking, and to process out loud or inside or however. I’ve also noticed how folks are getting ideas from each other, or resonating with what someone’s just said. There’s a lot of energy there that feels curious and thoughtful and generous and replenishing.

Carl, you recently referred to the “recipe” for this experience – would you be willing to share a little about that and what you think goes into the creation/facilitation/evolution of a group like this?

Carl: Though I believe that we were very lucky in terms of how incredible our participants were, we did think intentionally about how we could set the group up for success:

Connect for the sake of connection

I cannot emphasize the power and importance of this ingredient enough. Bringing different people together who all want to authentically connect can impact how we show up and engage everywhere else.

Snowball sampling works for this setting

When we wanted to expand the conversation after our first meeting, we employed a “snowball sampling” approach wherein everyone invited another person who they thought would benefit from being in the space. This method was helpful for maintaining a sense of familiarity with each other while still including fresh perspectives and ideas.

Prepare some prompts ahead of time, but largely allow the conversation to flow in whatever direction it needs to

Allowing for a loose structure to the conversation gives the people involved a greater sense of agency and also means that folks do not have to prepare any content beforehand.

Honor contributions

We always invited folks to come as they were and participate as much or as little as they wanted, and we were intentional to share gratitude for folks being there and participating in the ways that they did. This created an unofficial routine of sharing gratitude across all group members, and that process alone created such an authentic sense of community even after one or two meetings.

Any big takeaways to share with folks who might be interested in doing something like this elsewhere on campus?

Carl: Absolutely! First off, do not underestimate the value of connecting as humans. The recognition of each individual as unique, multi-faceted, and nuanced was very important to the structure of our group. Regardless of whether we knew each other well or had any overlapping roles, there was still plenty of connection to be had around our experiences as people coping with the challenges of daily life – life at work and life outside work and how they interact with each other. Second, I would encourage people (especially introverts!) to be bold enough to take the first steps to initiate spaces for connection such as these. I know it can be scary or stressful to be the one to approach others and ask them for some of their valuable time, but it was oh so rewarding to have been gifted that time and make something meaningful of it. As an introvert myself, I would highly encourage anyone who may be thinking about establishing a space for connection with peers/colleagues to take that first step – it’s so worth it!

Sarah: I love what you’re saying, Carl! I think all I might add is that we’ve chatted a bit about how important a sense of safety and trust in these spaces is, and ways to achieve that, or set a space up for that, in such a brief span of time. One thing that’s stuck with me is that everyone knows someone in the space, has a connection to someone in the space. For folks who might be thinking about creating a group like this, I think this element is really important. Because being in this space and community together is incredible! It’s meant so much to share and hold space distinctly for connecting, with no real agenda other than to share and listen and normalize and validate, to be in community together, no need to prepare in any way other than to arrive and bring yourself, as you are in that day and moment(s) in time. It’s been rejuvenating and really impactful mentally and physically.

Wanna talk more? Have ideas? Be in touch! We’d love to chat with you about thoughts you have about this kind of meeting and space.