Grant awarded to study the impact of student well-being on retention rates

Research program by Director of Recreation Programs Dianna Clauss is in pilot phase
Keith Fernbach

Dianna Clauss, director of recreation programs, was recently awarded an $8,100 grant from the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) Foundation to study impact of health and well-being education on the retention rates of first-year students.

Using a combination of online learning and live events, Clauss has created a program that will teach Rider’s first-year students about how health and well-being can positively impact their lives, especially their success in college. The research program is being piloted this year and will be fully implemented during the 2019-20 academic year.

Clauss, who is also a graduate student in Rider's organizational leadership program, explains that because of the circumstances many first-year students face, focusing on this population can have the greatest impact.

“It’s their first time away from a structured setting at home, and now they’re making their own decisions about how they use their time and where they put their resources,” she says. “They might lack some of the skills that one might need to cope with the stress or anxiety they may be facing. Our goal is to make sure they’re aware of them at the front end of their time here at Rider to help them gain the skills they need to be successful.”

The program will focus on educating students in six areas: physical wellness (for example, nutrition and exercise); occupational wellness (encouraging students to think about their career choices earlier and begin taking steps to achieve their goals); intellectual wellness (how students are performing in their classwork and where they can go for academic support); spiritual wellness (the understanding of one's beliefs and values as well as respecting other's beliefs and values); emotional wellness (managing anxiety, depression or stress) and social wellness (having a support system of friends).

Clauss is using a web platform called the Campus Well for the online portion of the program. It contains information about numerous topics related to well-being. Students can learn about a given topic, for example, sleep, by engaging in a 10-minute tutorial that includes an article, a video and a survey at the end. They will then be invited to participate in a series of 20-minute presentations, or “lightning rounds,” which will be held in residence hall lounges. Each lightning round will include an activity where students can make something at the end that’s going to support the habits that they’re trying to engage in or change, and will also feature giveaways, raffles and refreshments. A pilot lightning round took place last October in Conover Hall.

Clauss, who holds a master’s in sports science, was promoted to the role of director of recreation programs in June after having served as the assistant director for the previous 11 years. In her position, she oversees Rider’s recreation department, which includes intramural sports, club sports, student health and well-being initiatives, and special events.

In 2016, she decided to enroll in the organizational leadership graduate program so she could better serve the Rider community. “My original master’s degree didn’t touch on student development, or higher education, or counseling, and that is what I feel like I do on a regular basis,” she explains. “Yes, I manage the sport program, but sport is really just a vehicle that we use for student development in our department.”

She says that the wellness research will benefit her not only professionally, but in her coursework, as well. “I’m taking a class now called organizational research, and I’m using what I’m learning from this class to help me set up the pilot programs. And that’s what we’re hoping our students are going to be doing too — taking what they learn in the classroom and then implementing it in their line of work. It’s exciting that I’m able to use the grant to support the initiatives here at Rider and also take the research that we have and use it towards my capstone project that I’m doing to receive my degree.”

Clauss is hopeful that she can continue her research beyond the two-year grant period. “I’d like to turn this into more of a longitudinal study and look at impact over all four years students are here, maybe taking that first class that will be coming through the research design next year and then seeing over the course of their time at Rider, if they continue to learn these well-being pieces. Can they say, ‘I learned this as a first-year student and I think that it impacted my ability to persist to graduation?'”

She also believes the findings from her study can have a long-lasting impact at Rider, with elements of it being incorporated into the freshman seminars or being readily accessible for anyone who needs guidance on health and wellness topics.

“This can be a springboard for us here at Rider to have a better understanding of how we can support student learning and student success,” she says.