A study of the Class of 2018 has the potential to change the way Duke thinks about the adjustment to college life.
The research project, titled You@Duke, aims to understand why some students struggle adjusting to college and to apply the findings in order to help those who struggle. With questions covering topics from students' academic lives to their relationships with friends and parents, You@Duke comprises two surveys released to all incoming freshmen—one early this summer and one following orientation week—with select members of the class surveyed throughout their time at Duke. The project is a piece of a larger program funded by the Charlotte-based Duke Endowment and is also being carried out at Davidson College, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University.
“We have looked hard and we’ve never found a project of this magnitude, with this many people, over this many institutions, over this many years, that’s focused just on the wellbeing of emerging adults,” said Mark Leary, director of the social psychology program and one of the researchers behind You@Duke.
The study hopes to point researchers toward opportunities for guidance and intervention in the lives of incoming students. Although it is too early for the team to identify specific programs that could develop as a result of the surveys, the information has the potential to affect several areas of the University—including the house model, freshman orientation and Counseling and Psychological Services.
“The question is not just, how do we promote wellbeing and adjustment and getting through Duke without going crazy with the workload, but how do you prepare people as young adults to deal better with the stressors of modern life,” Leary said.
In addition to the two surveys already released to all freshmen, the study will include a long-term component that will follow a select group over several years. Researchers will select 500 members of the Class of 2018 who will be asked to become “You@Duke affiliates” and will commit to participating in the project over the next few years.
They will receive additional compensation for their participation, said You@Duke team member Molly Weeks, a research scientist in psychology and neuroscience.
The study is working to obtain data from 100 percent of the freshman class– an ambitious goal, researches said, but one that the You@Duke team believes will be beneficial to everyone on campus.
"We are extremely excited by the potential of the You@Duke project to help us identify barriers we can minimize and opportunities we can emphasize such that all Duke students experience as ideal an undergraduate life as they can," Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta wrote in an email Friday. "It's a lofty goal and one worth the struggle."
The concept behind the project was announced last September, when the Duke Endowment pledged $3.4 million to Duke, Davidson, Furman and JCSU for a "student resiliency" study. Although each school is collecting data on its own students to implement in the way they see best fit, administrators from the four schools are collaborating to better understand their data.
"It's been fun intellectually and fun professionally," Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said.
In addition to the collaboration between the four schools, the project has also brought together the researchers who deal with the technical aspects of the surveys and the administrators who deal with student life—a unique feature of the project that has been exciting, said Gary Glass, associate director for outreach and developmental programming at CAPS.
"The collaboration represents what is so amazing about getting to work at a place like Duke," Glass wrote in an email Friday. "There is often such a divide between research and practice, and it's been such a wonderful opportunity experience to see scholars and practitioners in different disciplines working together on something that will have tangible application for the work we all do."