Any student that has taken a class in the STEM field understands the intense academic rigour and competitive nature of the courses. While some students may flourish in this setting, others may wither — especially freshmen, who may be new to the rigors of collegiate academics.
Margaret O’Brien, sophomore, reflects on her freshman STEM course experience saying, “It can be very stressful and very debilitating to the point of saying to myself ‘why bother trying if I’m not doing as well as [others in the course].’”
Like O’Brien, STEM students who are struggling to manage can begin to feel isolated in their worries. Due to the overwhelming stress and pressure to do well in STEM classes, many students begin to feel anxious and depressed. “I see it a lot because I teach most of the STEM students,” said Dr. Alagic, Associate Professor of Chemistry here at SLU, of the visible signs of intense stress that she sees in her students. “It’s really necessary that we take some action.”
Some action was certainly taken, growing from a trial and error test in Dr. Alagic’s classroom, to a new SLU program and commitment: The SLU STEM Wellness Initiative. The inspiration to create a STEM Wellness program at SLU came during one of Dr. Alagic’s lectures last Spring, that O’Brien was a student in. “For the first time I tried a project for a big class, and we saw that [by] just doing this project where people are working together, they started talking to each other, and started collaborating,” said Dr. Alagic. She further added to the benefits of the collaboration by saying, “It formed this better environment for all of us to learn, and people wanted to learn.” Her students even began to meet and collaborate outside of lecture, by simply studying together and working through the difficulty of the class material together, to going on runs at 6 a.m. in the morning to destress. The comradery between students continued for the duration of the semester, even after the project was over.
The SLU STEM Wellness Initiative head coordinators are compiled of Dr. Alagic and O’Brien, along with Lizzie Kelley and Catherine Cline, both sophomores. The goal of the program is to create a community of SLU STEM students that can help and provide support for each other. It’s meant to create an environment of comfort, and let each other know that you’re not alone in your academic struggles, and that you will make it through your classes. “We’re trying to focus on how to be mentally healthy, and how to take care of yourself,” said O’Brien.
The skills and habits to effectively manage stress and be successful in STEM are not only exclusive to your time here at SLU, but they can be carried to future STEM endeavors. “If you’re in a stressful academic environment, you’re most likely going to be in a stressful high-pressure job, and so if you can learn these techniques and skills as an undergrad… it’s so much more helpful for life,” said O’Brien. “It’s life knowledge.”
Not only is the SLU STEM Wellness Initiative used to create a healthy environment for STEM students and promote mental health, but it is also used as a way to destress with activities like yoga and outdoor running. Every Monday, at 6:15 a.m., they meet outside of Spring Hall and go for a three mile run, often with SLU’s running club. Then on Wednesday, at 8:15 a.m., there is professionally instructed yoga on the Science Quad for free. On every other Friday of the month, a professional from the STEM fields in St. Louis will talk about their experience and profession in the field, offering guidance and assistance.
“We want this to be something that everyone knows about and that everyone is comfortable with,” said O’Brien when talking about the relaxed environment of the SLU STEM Wellness Initiative. It’s a resource available for students like SI study sessions. “The more people who are involved, the more input we have.”
To stay updated on this project, follow the SLU STEM Wellness Initiative on Instagram: @stemwellnessinitiative.