The Engelhard Project celebrates its 12th anniversary as one of Georgetown’s hallmarks of undergraduate education. Launched by the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship in 2005, it has helped students “create meaningful connections” between their intellectual pursuits and personal experiences and “infuse wellness” into their curriculums.
“The project was built from a model of teaching that a few faculty at Georgetown were already using. It consists in being very intentional about bringing students’ interests, needs and lived experiences into the coursework and animating it,” CNDLS Assistant Director for Strategic Initiatives and Outreach Joselyn Schultz said. “When you’re trying to connect your material to your students, it’s important to pay attention to who your students are, what they care about, and what’s going on with them.”
Originally envisioned as an academic initiative, the Engelhard Project has progressed into a remarkably wide embodiment of Georgetown’s belief in cura personalis, or care for the entire person. Its closer connection to mental health and wellness issues came from the grant awarded to the initiative by the Bringing Theory to Practice Project. Founded in 2003, BTtoP works to “advance civic education, engaged learning, and the well-being of individual students” through a series of contributions to different colleges and universities.
“The people at BTtoP were interested specifically in well-being issues, and that turned out to be a really great focus point for us,” Schultz said. “Especially because the frame of well-being really allows for it to be anything that is going on with students related to how they’re doing, while also tying it to something Georgetown has been good at for a long time, which is the safety net and the student resources provided here.”
Engelhard’s high-impact learning practices focus on connecting the academic course material to well-being in a way that both supports students in the learning process and encourages profound reflections on their own attitudes, behaviors and actions.
“The Engelhard Project embeds wellness topics into courses across all academic disciplines on campus,” Associate professor and CNDLS Senior Scholar Joan Riley said. “It changes the classroom conversation, enabling students to apply course material to their lived experiences. Learning becomes more meaningful and engaging.”
Part of the project’s reach relies on the partnership between faculty and university health professionals to support students both personally and academically. Faculty fellows use a “curriculum infusion approach” that merges academic content with health and well-being topics of discussion. Through discussions led by campus health professionals, presentations, readings and contemplative writing, the courses aim to educate “the whole student.”
“We touch on different topics, trying to pay attention to what’s going on in one class that might help support someone’s issues in another class,” Schultz said. “What we see going on with the nursing school students is actually a perfect match with the business school students’ issues. Health professionals who are usually in more than one class often identify pulling themes across them. The goal is that all these classes are great entities in it of themselves but also in a larger conversation with each other.”
Engelhard courses manifest the project’s creative and meaningful pairing of academic formation and personal well-being. In an “Advanced Neurobiology” course, for example, students analyze the biological effects of sleep deprivation. The “Biblical Literature” class explores students’ experiences of friendship in the shaping of healthy social identity. “Foundations in Biology,” a large introductory course, personalizes its content by having the faculty and students share their own experiences with depression.
“What the Engelhard Project has done is create a community of hope, a community of caring, a true community where the notion of caring for the whole person is truly being lived,” Engelhard Health Professional Patrick Kilcarr said.
The Engelhard Project has expanded its aims to the fierce debunking of the “perfect student” myth that continues to permeate the Georgetown culture. By creating dynamic spaces for open dialogue about the most pressing issues students face on a daily basis, the program promotes enduring health-related awareness and discussion.
“It’s an issue faculty are really concerned about but also really energized to try and nudge on,” Schultz said. “A lot of faculty try to be honest and authentic about who they are in the classroom as not necessarily done, perfect, polished people.”
Faculty and health professionals alike strive to communicate this message through lectures, dialogues, thought exercises and readings. Engelhard students are encouraged to perceive both their academic and personal formation as an ongoing process to which struggles are a key component to acknowledge, assess and gradually resolve.
“Faculty and health professionals are trying to find ways to let students see they are people in progress, too,” Shultz said. “We are all flawed, we are all working on stuff, we’ve all got our complications and things going on and actually being open to that continual process is what learning looks like.”
The main goal behind the Engelhard Project is to channel students’ mental health and wellness concerns to produce spaces that recognize the nature of these issues and work through them during every class. Awareness is the first step toward resolving the problems affecting students personally and therefore advancing their educational progress.
“The project has the potential for really transforming how students view both the academic side of it, and the relevance to their own lives,” Schultz said. “Engelhard works with the importance of being seen, that you are not just a head walking into a classroom, that you are a full, complicated, complex, interesting person walking in with experiences as real assets to pull out in the classroom.”
The project has certainly ensured students that they are seen, heard and supported by the Georgetown community. By recognizing the importance of nurturing them as individuals as well as academic performers, Engelhard has crafted a comprehensive road for students to access their true potential.
Forging healthy personal and academic paths is an exacting practice. The Engelhard Project provides students with a rich platform that encourages them to embark on their own journeys to wellness.
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