Keep Climbing

karenHere’s a mystery for you. Two students are dealing with a similar array of academic and personal challenges. One of the students forges ahead, overcoming the obstacles and emerging as a stronger and more committed person. The other student folds up and gives in, vanishing from your campus forever. What made the difference?

That’s a puzzle posed to community college teachers and administrators every day. We all want to encourage persistence and enhance retention, but we’re not sure which factors lead to those outcomes. While research has suggested strategies that may be effective, it isn’t always easy to apply these in our classrooms. Consider the  cover story of the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind, “True Grit: 6 Science-tested Tips for Building Your Resilience.” Authors Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Chaney discuss “The Biology of Bouncing Back,” and point to physical exercise, family support, the ability to modulate negative emotions, the fostering of positive feelings, and imitating resilient role models as contributors to resilience.

Justin dissects a heart.

Justin dissects a heart.

I sometimes discuss resilience with my current second-semester class in anatomy and physiology. This group is one of those dream classes gifted to us by the fairy godmother of college education.  They are a confident, sociable, and talented group, and the class typically has a lively, cheerfully competitive vibe.  Several students are current or former soldiers, and virtually all the other students have military connections.  They believe in teamwork and hard work. They teach me at least as much as I teach


A few days ago, we were discussing why some students perform better than others when the going gets tough. Justin, a reservist who conducts training in outdoor skills for fellow soldiers, shared a story. He and a civilian expert climber, Scott, were leading a group of Army Rangers up a challenging cliff. Scott had scrambled up the sheer rock face, while one of the Rangers was having a tough time navigating an outcropping.Rock climbing stanage

“Hey, Scott!  How’d you get past this bump?” the stymied soldier called.

Down came the reply: “I KEPT CLIMBING!”

The class members nodded their affirmation.  The secret to overcoming adversity really is to keep climbing. That’s the key to making any challenge an achievable one.

Now if we could just figure out a way to bottle and distribute that.


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