Health and Wellbeing in Higher Education: A Commitment to Student Success was first published in March 2018 and it has been steadily gaining support and partnership ever since. Among the Commitment’s calls to action is one focused on convening efforts—led by ACHA, NASPA, and NIRSA—to lean into research and develop evidence-based activities to improve the health and wellbeing of the entire campus community.

In June, NIRSA, NASPA, and ACHA held a second wellbeing research summit. This summit—derived from the research-focused call to action in the Commitment—was a follow-up to the first research summit (held in December 2018) and the ensuing member feedback from attendees at the annual NIRSA, NASPA, and ACHA conferences.

Wellbeing and student success research project

To help drive this work forward, NIRSA, NASPA, and ACHA are jointly supporting research that focuses on wellbeing and student success—this was the most requested research focus from the two summits and the 2019 annual conference sessions.

Based on this feedback, the three associations are interested in looking at wellbeing initiatives that are integrated throughout multiple areas of campus and gathering data about their impact. This is a significant topic area in need of research and data that is then usable by all campuses interested in pursuing and growing their own wellbeing efforts. Your proposed project could be contributing concrete research to this much larger conversation.

The possibilities are extensive and much is needed, so part of the proposal will ask applicants to use their expertise to put forth a specific research question, timeline, and budget within this realm. Applicants will also be asked to make a compelling case for why that specific question and data are critical pieces in the evolving conversation regarding the importance of student success and wellbeing.

The application is open from November 4, 2019 until January 3, 2020. For additional details about the qualifications, compensation, and timeline, please visit the application webpage. Applicants must submit: (1) a current resume or CV, (2) responses to question prompts, (3) a demonstration of previous involvement with at least one of the associations signed onto the Commitment, and (4) a professional writing sample. Apply today!

Decisions will be made by January 31 and the selected applicant will be notified by February 3, 2020. Submissions will be reviewed by a range of expertise; representation from NIRSA, NASPA, and ACHA will all be included.

Wellbeing definition

The call for research proposals also asks that any submitted projects utilize the current draft of the interassociation wellbeing definition. This definition will be supported by the associations who have signed onto the Commitment, and, hopefully, throughout higher education more broadly.

In the pursuit of co-creating cultures of integrated wellbeing on campuses worldwide, signatories of the Commitment want to ensure we are building from a shared understanding and foundation. Since there was not a consistently recognized, existing definition of wellbeing—especially as it applies to higher education—the members of our organizations asked that one be created. This was the single most requested outcome from both summits and the 2019 annual conference sessions.

To this end, we have been working together—as a community of experts from across our respective fields—to review the many existing wellbeing theories and to adapt those theories and language into an overarching definition of wellbeing for higher education. The definition, and its supplementary material, is meant to be foundational; we hope a shared understanding can be a stepping stone to systemic change. The document, of course, will not be exhaustive and it does not intend to mean all things to all organizations or specialty areas; rather, the goal is to be widely usable. Our definition is tailored to inform programming, policies, and practices in support of student wellbeing in higher education settings.

Many NIRSA members have already viewed a draft of this definition and provided feedback as it was shared by members of the Health & Wellbeing Task Force during their presentations at regional events and, in the case of Region III, state workshops. The draft previewed at these events was described as about “80% cooked.” Thanks to feedback, the draft accompanying the call for research proposals is about “90% cooked.”

We think it’s important that the wellbeing definition inform the work of the research project from the start—even if some of the supplementary sections are still being developed. As such, this emerging definition of wellbeing speaks to the reality of the evolving nature of this important and dynamic work.

  • For more information, please contact NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Erin O’Sullivan.
Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships at | NIRSA Profile

Erin O'Sullivan is currently the Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships at NIRSA.