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Session Title: Responding to mental health issues while simultaneously improving academic success in the era of covid-19 through reflective journaling
Speaker: Victor Isbell, PhD. Lecturer, University of Nevada at Las Vegas
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Session description: Today is a dangerous time to be a college student in America. Not only does Covid-19 present its own set of physical problems, but the associated isolation, loneliness, and depression have left major health and mental illness issues among current students. Students living away from home for the first time have less access to family and friends. Along with more independence, they face increased academic demands, they are adjusting to a new environment and there is an opportunity to experiment with alcohol and other drugs which may all compound the problems of stress, depression, and the risk for suicide. While university instructors are expected to provide a rigorous academic experience, the authors of this paper believe we also have an obligation to address the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health issues of the college environment. We will describe a well-researched applied process, which if followed in almost any subject, will increase the positive mental and emotional health of students. At the same time, it will significantly improve the academic outcome. The teaching strategy we will describe can be referred to as reflective journaling. It will stimulate critical thinking and improve student learning outcomes. The ultimate goal is to actually change the attitude of the student by having them critically reflect on their beliefs and what they have learned and implement a plan to improve their positive mental attitude. Research has shown that only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ. The other 75% are predicted by the optimism levels and social support which allows students to see stress as a challenge to face rather than a threat. When the brain is working in a positive mode it performs much better than when it is negative, neutral, or stressed. The positive brain is 31% more productive, salespeople are 37% better at sales, and doctors are 19% faster and more accurate in coming up with the correct diagnosis. To create lasting positive change, the following sections of the reflective journal and the rationale behind them will be discussed: GRATEFUL ITEMS: The first assignment in the journal requires students to list at least three things each week for which they are grateful. They must add a sentence as to why they are grateful for the items listed. ACT OF KINDNESS: Students are asked to do an act of kindness each week and write about the experience in their journal. Being kind causes elevated levels of dopamine in the brain and we get a natural high, often referred to as a “runner’s high.” Kindness is teachable, and it is likely to cause others to “pay it forward” and do kind things for other people. This domino effect can improve the lives of many people besides the one initially helped. Following the gratitude items and acts of kindness, a reflective journal should contain what we call mindset, meditation, and movement. Mindset can best be learned through self-reflection exercises that will aid students to get clarity on their strengths and weakness, their career direction and choices. It is increasingly popular for treating depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Taking the time to consciously meditate combined with movement or some type of physical exercise will increase optimism and positive thinking. By having college students reflect on what concepts were taught and list any “ah-ha” moments they had, the information presented will be reinforced and retained better in long-term memory. As a result, our upper-division management students tend to do significantly better on academic exams compared to those that do not keep a reflective journal. The authors will provide information on the increase in proficiency from their own classes both with and without the journal requirement. Finally, we will share actual student evaluations of the process. We will understand from student journals how it kept them happier, more secure, less depressed, and how it improved their quality of life during the Covid-19 shutdown of the past two years.

Bio: Biographical sketch of Dr Victor Isbell March 2022 Dr Victor Isbell has been teaching at the college and university level for going on 48 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, an MBA degree, and a PhD from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. Dr Isbell began teaching at Southern Utah University where he was the “marketing department.” While there, he was also director of the Small Business Development Center, which in conjunction with the Small Business Administration helped entrepreneurs in several states get their businesses up and running. He also started several small business ventures of his own. He had a tour company of the national parks in the area, a collection agency, and a seminar business that taught college classes at the local ski resort in the summer for teachers trying to recertify. He also owned the “Institute for Personal and Professional Development,” Tricks and Toys (retail vending service) and Action Advertising (speciality advertising services). He personally constructed a mini-warehouse of over one hundred units and also built his own home of 5,400 square feet. He was trained as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and served on the voluntary ambulance service for four years. After his wife finished her Doctorate Degree, the family with their six children (not a lot to do in Southern Utah) moved to Las Vegas where he continues to teach at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). He has taught a wide variety of subjects including Small Business, Human Resource Management, Marketing, Buyer Behavior, Retailing, Business Law, Business Strategic Management and Policy, Leadership and Management Skills, International Management, Accounting, Educational Research, Educational Measurement, Statistics, Introduction to Computers, Advanced Organizational Behavior, and various seminar classes. Dr Isbell also taught Master’s classes for Webster University, NOVA University, and the University of Phoenix. He also taught for Corinthian College and for Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida. For one year Dr Isbell worked as a “Special Consultant for Economic Development and Marketing” for the office of the Lieutenant Governor for the State of Nevada. He was responsible to locate, evaluating, and encouraging business ventures to establish new or branch offices in Nevada. When younger he spent two years as a voluntary missionary in Uruguay, South America. He is (or at least was) fluent in Spanish. He has held numerous positions in his local church and community and has served on the board of directors for several companies. At one time he was chosen to be the “Marketing Professor of the Year” within the Marketing Department and he was awarded the “Marketing Teacher of the Year” from the UNLV Alumni Association.