September 23, 2016 Carly Rospert

A Degree Towards Happiness

Millennials, say what you want about them, are great adaptors.  To technology, to culture, and to the changing landscape of employment. Upon college graduation, a young person can have multiple different jobs, in drastically different fields, adapting their skill set each time. With such a varied career path, expectation that a university could prepare a young person for all these twists and turns seems increasingly unrealistic.  What would it look like to prepare students, instead, for a fulfilling and purposeful life? Staff from Mayerson Academy and Northern Kentucky University had the great opportunity to experience a university that is answering just this question.

Tecmilenio, a university system with over thirty campuses across the Mexico, was founded in 2002 as the sister university to Tecnologico De Monterrey, an elite, private institution the likes of MIT.  Tecmilenio was created to serve a broader swath of students, to make quality education more accessible. But by 2012, the university system was faced with an identity challenge that forced them to innovate and differentiate or risk closing its doors.

tecmileniophoto2Based on the needs of regional industry, parents and students, Tecmilenio shifted from a university offering a paired down version of its elite sister’s curriculum to a university uniquely focused on (1) customized education, (2) learning by doing, and (3) preparation for happiness. This pivot is reflected in Tecmilenio’s vision: to help individuals define their purpose in life and provide the competencies to achieve it. With a shifted vision came a shifted system. The university offers courses in positive psychology, has an Institute of Wellbeing and Happiness, and integrates wellbeing content and activities into every degree program. This shift extends beyond the student experience to faculty and staff with positive approach events, wellbeing practices, and benefits changes.

While still realizing the impact of this shift, some impressive results are starting to surface. Tecmilenio increased retention of students from their 1st to 2nd year by 11% by adding a strengths-based mentoring program. In the way of faculty and staff, employee satisfaction has risen 2% and employee turnover has decreased from 50% in 2011-12 to 26.7% in 2015-16.

This great example of a university undergoing organizational and cultural change towards increased wellbeing lends amazing insight to the work underway at NKU to create a strong university culture focused on wellbeing. A few key learnings the team is taking away include:

  • Technical education/certification around wellbeing and positive psychology is likely not enough to have the impact we want. We also need to focus on creating a cultural shift that supports wellbeing and happiness.
  • It is important to engage staff and faculty deeply in the wellbeing work from the beginning in order to achieve buy-in and ownership for long-term sustainability.
  • Communicating the “why” of the wellbeing work regularly to all audiences is crucial to build and sustain momentum around the work.

These insights and more will help shape the continued work of NKU in their endeavor to use an appreciative approach to foster a culture of health and wellbeing for University staff.

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