Veenstra presents research on mindfulness

Nisheeka Simmons, Staff Writer

More than 40 faculty members and students at Francis Marion University (FMU) attended the Humanities and Social Sciences Symposium held on Jan.14 in Founder’s Hall (FH)  222-A.

The seminar was entitled “Mindfulness in the Age of Distraction: How Students and Professors Can Become More Present in the Twenty-First Century Classroom” and was presented by Dr. Michelle Veenstra, assistant professor of English. The paperclip exercise was a part of a demonstration of divergent thinking, a quality that, according to Veenstra’s sources, has been on a decline.

“Kim’s research shows that even though IQ scores have been steadily increasing, creativity scores have been falling ever since 1990,” Veenstra said. “The research by Kim also says that people are less motivated to be creative and that creativity is less encouraged by home, school, and society overall.”

Veenstra went on to explain that creativity requires psychological safety and freedom. Citing Kim and Piaget, she went on to say that in order for children to have those things they must be afforded the opportunity to think in the first place. Veenstra listed several solutions which included, but were not limited to flipped classrooms, badges, and mindfulness.

Mindfulness, as described by Veenstra’s research, requires paying attention in a particular way and on purpose. Veenstra also added that the purpose of mindfulness is not to try and make the best decision from a set of choices, but to create brand new options. Veenstra described mindfulness in several perspectives including those of Buddhists, however she made sure to clarify that the method is not limited to followers of Buddhism.

“When a lot of people hear the term ‘mindfulness’ they immediately think of meditation and hippies,” Veenstra said. “Though meditation may be used as a component of mindfulness it is not required that you follow a certain lifestyle in order to reap its benefits.”

As a part of her research, Veenstra required that one of her English 200 classes participate in three minutes of mindful meditation at the beginning of every class. She said that an important aspect she made sure to include as part of her instructing was to not only give the students information, but to give them a chance to use their creativity through application.  In the end, Veenstra said, the students who used the mindful approach performed best on recall, creative essay, and other assignments.

Dr. William Daniel, assistant professor of political science, attended the symposium and said that he found the premise to be very interesting.  Daniel said that Veenstra brought a fresh approach to a subject that was not too unfamiliar.

“Most educators know that students should be calm in order to learn anything, but she goes as far as to make it a requirement of the class” Daniel said.

The Humanities and Social Science Symposia are an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to receive information about the research completed by FMU faculty and are held every month. The next symposium will feature Daniel speaking on the careers of politicians in Europe.