Class project puts social work students' research in leading journal

by Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—An unusual examination of the practical therapeutic applications of mindfulness combined with a senior faculty member's commitment to community service led seven Western Michigan University graduate social work students to have their first professional paper accepted for publication in one of their discipline's most prestigious journals.

"An Environmental Scan of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on University and College Campuses" was published in the December 2016 issue of the internationally acclaimed Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.

The newly published researchers are Kaley J. Cieslak, Lehanna E. Hardy, Natalie S. Kyles, Erika L. Miller, Becky L. Mullins, Katelyn M. Root, and Christina M. Smith. The seven were students last spring in Dr. Rick Grinnell's section of the course Evaluation of Social Work Practice. They undertook and completed their original research project in addition to their regular coursework, meeting after class and on weekends over a five-month period to finish their effort.

"Their initial objective was to provide a succinct up-to-date resource guide for those seeking information about the hundreds of existing mental health programs—particularly mindfulness interventions—that are currently available to university and college students throughout North America," says Grinnell, a professor of social work who last year received the 2015 Scholarship and Excellence award from the College of Health and Human Services. "If the reader wishes to find out more about how a specific mental health program is being implemented within its respective university or college setting, the article contains links to the websites of all the university and college mental health programs."

Mindfulness is a meditative practice with Buddhist roots. It calls for open and active attention on the present and fully living in the moment.

The students found that colleges and universities are increasing the mental health interventions they offer to their students, and mindfulness-based interventions seem to be being used with an increasing frequency. Such interventions include mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, guided meditations and yoga, compassion training, mindfulness-based technology, and mindful eating.

Gown-to-town tradition

Grinnell says the students' work was completely voluntary and done simply because the students knew it was an important topic that needed to be addressed. It's rare, he says, for social work students to publish in a refereed journal, and their success in doing so is another indicator of the importance of their topic, in addition to their commitment to advancing social work practice through research.

Contributing useful evidence-based social work interventions in a practical way to improve lives is becoming something of a tradition in this course, Grinnell says. For example, previous students in the course were awarded a $50,000 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to offer a three-year evidence-based parent training intervention in Kalamazoo.

"I like to think of the course as a 'gown to town' course where students can produce practical and relevant products for our local community," Grinnell says.

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