More than Half of Incoming HP First-Years Choose Mindfulness Course

by Cory Hopkins & Dr. Monica Halka | September 2018

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Photo (above): Students seated in the Honors Program classroom learn about the basics of meditation.

Three years ago, in an effort to address the high level of perceived stress among Georgia Tech students, the Honors Program opened three sections of GT 1000 that focused on mindfulness practices. While these classes were clearly appreciated by those participating and yielded evidence that they gained valuable coping skills, annual enrollment remained fairly flat. Until this year.

“We had planned once again to offer only three sections, to be taught by Ameet Doshi, Paul Verhaeghen, and myself, for a total of 52 available seats,” said Dr. Halka, Associate Director of the Honors Program and initiator of the mindfulness project. “However, all available seats filled up by FASET 5.” This was surprising, as the maximum enrollment had been 47 back in 2016. So she started adding sections to meet demand.

There are now 105 students enrolled in six Honors Program sections of this course—comprising more than half of the incoming Honors Program first-year cohort. They will learn many different mindfulness techniques that can be performed during the normal course of their day. These include particular practices to enhance focus and concentration, creativity, awareness of self and others, and—perhaps most importantly—relaxation. The most popular practice in her class so far has been the “going to sleep” meditation, which is very encouraging to Dr. Halka.

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Photo (above): Students take part in their first guided meditation, led by Dr. Monica Halka.

The course incorporates required readings on the importance of sleep, the neuroscience of meditation, and the dangers of chronic stress. “It’s important for students to understand the current scientific understanding behind why these meditation practices are beneficial,” said Dr. Halka, “so they don’t just see it as some kind of ethereal mumbo jumbo.”

There is also increased faculty interest. During the GT 1000 Instructors Workshop this summer, 45 instructors attended Dr. Halka’s parallel session on bringing mindfulness techniques into their own GT 1000 classes. She attributes the upsurge in enthusiasm for the topic both to its spreading mainstream popularity and to recent scientific research results. She is also happy to note that the course directly addresses goals of “Creating the Next in Education,” in that mindfulness methods have been shown to improve cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

Learn more about the program here: honorsprogram.gatech.edu/content/3ma