Trustees of the Charlotte-based Duke Endowment approved a $3.4 million dollar grant for the Student Resiliency Project, which will research how four college campuses can help students cope with stressful circumstances.

The four-year grant will allow researchers to look at ways campuses can build resiliency—which the project defines as the ability for students to work through adverse situations. The researchers will look at resiliency at Duke, Johnson C. Smith University, Davidson College and Furman University.

“We all deal with stress… some better than others. Through this project we hope to better understand why some students cope well and others don’t,” Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta wrote in an email Monday.

Faculty, practitioners and students from all four institutions will be participating in the project. The research will be overseen by Tim Strauman—professor of psychology and neuroscience—and Molly Weeks—a psychology and neuroscience postdoctoral associate. Individual research teams at each university will conduct their own projects or activities as well.

“A steering committee made up of staff and faculty of all four schools will develop the formal budget,” Moneta said. “Most of the research funds will come to Duke since we’ll be coordinating the research aspect for all four schools.”

The stress level of college students is increasing due to economic burdens and the growing pressure for students to lead and innovate, said Tom Shandley, vice president for student life and dean of students.

“The uncertain future created by the economic downturn has created more anxiety for some students than in past generations,” Shandley wrote in an email Monday. “When you add the additional burden of college affordability, student debt and the reality of having to make loan payments with the above, that is indeed a pressure felt.”

In the first year of the project, campus leaders will design the research model, which will include opportunities for students, faculty and practitioners to work together, said Susan McConnell, director of the higher education and director of human resources at the Duke Endowment. The second year will incorporate data collection and analysis as the project tries to identify key sources of stress among the colleges.

In the third year, there will be a pilot intervention in student resiliency and an assessment of its effectiveness, and in the fourth year each campus will develop its own program to enhance student resiliency at school, McConnell added.

“The Trustees of the Duke Endowment saw this as a chance for these four schools to work together on an important issue,” McConnell wrote in an email Monday. “We expect the research coming from this project will add to the field and lead to interventions focused on student well-being.”

By working with a diverse array of educational facilities the organization hopes to identify key factors that will encourage resiliency in the four schools, which can then be applied to other schools throughout the United States.

As part of the Resiliency Project, there will be a three-year summer research initiative at Davidson. Two student representatives from each of the schools in the program will develop model and strategies to cope with stress each summer.

“It is my hope that we will learn more about... what, if anything, a college or university can do to help,” Shandley said. “Whether that help comes from inside the classroom or in residence, environmental influences should matter and I expect that we will learn what can be done to promote student resiliency on our respective campuses.”