The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Innovations in Research and Practice Grant

Date Funded: 
Feb 15, 2017
Funding Organization: 
National Collegiate Athletics Association

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has received one of five awards from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Innovations in Research and Practice Grant Program.

The UMass Resilience Team, led by Genevieve Chandler, associate professor of nursing, and Jim Helling, a UMass Center for Counseling and Psychological Health senior clinician and leader of the Athletic Counseling Office, will use the $16,000 award to expand the scope of their classroom-based “Changing Minds, Changing Lives” (CMCL), designed to support first-year student-athletes’ successful transition into college life.

The NCAA awarded a total of $100,000 to the five projects, all of which are intended to improve psychosocial well-being among college athletes. From a field of 63 proposals, the NCAA awarded funding to programs showing promise as models for dissemination to other member colleges and universities for use on their campuses.

CMCL is a five-week, 10-session, one-credit seminar designed to teach stress management skills, build resilience and develop leadership capacity. Groups of 12 to 15 students will participate in guided mindfulness exercises, strengths-based learning activities, and reflective writing practice with facilitated group feedback. Sessions will be led by faculty as well as later-career student-athletes, who will serve as mentors. The course will be offered during the summer session to prepare students for the upcoming challenges of the academic year. Booster sessions will be held monthly to continue to provide students with tools and support, as well as to gather feedback. Qualitative and quantitative research methods will be employed to track outcomes.

A pilot version of the program that began in 2016 at UMass Amherst was found to reduce participants’ perceived level of stress, increase resilience and improve emotional awareness, compared to the control group. The encouraging feedback earned the support of director of athletics Ryan Bamford and senior associate athletic director Darrice Griffin.

A mental health nurse, much of Chandler’s research has centered on resilience. She is eager to bring her knowledge and skills to student-athletes through CMCL.

“Teaching students about the neurobiology of stress and the steps to building resilience works when an educational experience has an immediate application to students’ lives. CMCL, is different from other courses. It is more focused on what students know rather than what they don’t know,” says Chandler.

As one participant said, “She doesn’t tell us what to think, she listens to what we have to say.” In response, Chandler asks, “Why would we keep how to stay healthy, building on one’s strengths and managing stress, a secret?”

Chandler’s pilot study was selected by the National Association of Academic Advisor’s, N4A, 2017 National Convention Research Showcase.