This story is featured in the Spring 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how Dr. Angela Bauer, Dean of the Wanek School of Natural Sciences, promotes students to adopt a growth mindset.
Motivating Students to Embrace Challenge and Realize Their Intellectual Potential
By Dr. Angela Bauer, Dean of the Wanek School of Undergraduate Sciences
Mindset has a powerful effect on student learning.
Just ask 2018 graduate and biology major, Deanna Lee.
“I used to think of my coursework in black and white: either I would understand it, or I wouldn’t,” Lee shared with me recently.
Like many students around the country, she exhibited a fixed mindset about her ability during her early academic career. She believed that her intelligence was not something that she could change. Thus, when she struggled early in her scientific coursework, she took this as a sign that she probably just wasn’t a “science person.”
This limiting belief — that one is either a “science person” or not — commonly pops up in college courses across the nation, and it has huge consequences. Not only does it cause students to struggle academically in their coursework, but in the long term, it limits the number of students who choose to pursue careers in fields such as the sciences.
That’s why faculty at High Point University developed a plan to actively combat students’ limiting beliefs about their academic ability. Now, in biology and chemistry courses, HPU students regularly receive guidance and information that encourages them to adopt a growth mindset about their ability to do well in the courses.
These growth mindset tactics are based on the work of Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck and are a part of a broader, campus-wide initiative known as HPU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. Our QEP is designed to transform all students’ views about their learning.
According to Dweck’s work, which she conducted in the K-12 setting, when students cling to a fixed mindset (namely, when they believe intelligence is finite and unchangeable), they are more likely to avoid challenges (which they view as a threat or indicator of their intellectual limitations). And in the face of difficulty, they are less likely to seek help and more likely to disengage.
Faculty are well aware that a fixed mindset can stand in the way of students’ growth and their willingness to intellectually “stretch” themselves. As a result, their academic performance suffers.
Conversely, when students adopt a growth mindset, they understand that intelligence can grow and improve with effort and good strategies. With a growth mindset, they are more likely to respond resiliently to challenges and show greater learning and achievement in the face of difficulty.
As a result, academic performance improves, and students take on new challenges because they understand that responding to challenge with persistence and smart strategies equates to growth. For Lee, embracing a growth mindset was transformative.
“After learning about growth mindset, I was able to view obstacles and challenges through a new lens that was different from the black and white one I had grown accustomed to,” Lee says. “From that point on, my mind was wired to encourage myself and to seek new strategies when I faced challenges, because I knew it would help me to improve.”
As a result of this change in mindset, Lee persisted in her biology major, and even completed two undergraduate research projects. HPU is one of the first institutions of higher education to launch a campus-wide effort investigating the impact of growth mindset messaging on college students. And thus far, the results are impressive. A recent study conducted by HPU biology faculty showed that not only do growth mindset strategies enhance students’ overall grade point average in introductory biology courses, but they are particularly useful for enhancing the academic performance of students from underrepresented groups, such as women and students of color.
Implementing growth mindset tactics across all majors — which effectively addresses the emotional components of learning and encourages ALL students to persist and succeed — is a great example of the way HPU continues to innovate and inspire. In so doing, every student has the opportunity to embrace challenge, persist in the face of difficulty and ultimately realize their intellectual potential.