Students lounge on colorful cushions scattered across the floor. A few sit in high-backed chairs at a bistro table, talking. In the adjoining room, geometric tables are pushed together so different sized-groups can work.
It’s Friday at 3 p.m. in ACT III, an elective, interdisciplinary course held at The Hub at the Arcade in downtown Dayton that incorporates music videos with discussions and activities. Students chat easily with one another, belying the difficulty of the work ahead: a deep dive into their personal experiences to build essential skills that will make them resilient.
The top of the syllabus states: “It takes guts to sit down and do this work. Give your awesome self a pat on the back.”
The focus on resilience seems perfectly timed to help students still besieged by a pandemic. But the coursework, most recently offered during the fall 2021 semester, has for several years been part of a four-course curriculum offered by the University’s Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation that helps students apply their passions, purposes and possibilities to the real world.
“The pandemic just magnified the need for these skills,” said Brian LaDuca, IACT executive director and course instructor. “Now, more than ever, they hear over and over again they need to be more resilient — but no one else is telling them what that means.”
It’s not enough to simply survive through a rigorous class or a personal tragedy.
“I always found ‘grit’ to be like resilience without tools,” he said. “The resilience classroom is giving them a chance to practice, reflect and create their own dialogue and language around it, that they can use in their next steps.”
LaDuca starts and ends each class with a music video, providing a prompt for students to consider as they write in their journals. Just as the music tells a story, the students are able to share their own stories and find commonalities among their experiences in a class that purposefully draws students from a wide range of majors, interests and backgrounds.
For their final project, they share a bit of their personal journey toward developing resiliency along with their own music video, often focused on one of four aspects of resiliency: flexibility, self-awareness, focus on solutions and learning from experience. It’s an intimate look into their lives, a sharing they welcome with the understanding that, through storytelling, they will grow stronger and more resilient together.
The first full academic year of the pandemic did not go well for Khori Robinson. A natural people pleaser always at the center of attention, he found online classes, gathering restrictions and an uninspired roommate beyond frustrating. So he dropped his classes.
“I needed to take the year off and figure it out.”
“I needed to take the year off and figure it out,” Robinson said.
A Dayton native, he had entered college in August 2019 with plans to become a doctor. During his year off, he worked upwards of 80 hours a week at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton in the COVID-19 unit assisting patients. He remembers telling himself, “I know this isn’t what I want to do.”
His year off helped him reorient. He discovered a fondness of solo travel. His love for fashion turned into a clothing line. And he decided on a new major, health and fitness, with minors in entrepreneurship and marketing.
“Last semester was one of my best semesters here at the University, and just being happier reflected in my grades,” said Robinson about fall 2021. ACT III was one of the high points.
“The class makes you very vulnerable, but it also builds you up; it helps with your resiliency,” he said.
His final project focused on exhibiting flexibility. In the song “Slide Away,” Miley Cyrus sings about leaving somebody so she can reclaim her life and move forward. Then Robinson asked his classmates, “Have you ever allowed yourself to be
happy? Do you care for yourself?”
Robinson said he runs his life on full speed, but the course has gotten him to slow down and be happier in the moment, whatever it brings. “I believe I’m a little bit easier on myself, which is a lot for me,” he said.
Christian Hobson can tell you her strengths: “I am very driven, I am very to the point, and I think that I can lead well because I work in a team well,” said the third-year senior psychology major from Dayton.
But she also knows her weaknesses. Asking for help is a big one. She also gets anxious over new situations.
Hobson needed help when considering applying for desk supervisor for UD’s residence facilities. She asked everyone she knew — friends, acquaintances from class, professors — to share what they had heard about the position. No one had a good word to say about the job. But they told her this: “Christian, I think that you’re a good leader, and I think that you could do it.”
“I felt like it gave me that drive, gave me that determination to go out for the job and go out on a limb,” she said. “I’m happy to say I think I’m pretty good at my new job.”
For the resiliency skill of demonstrating self-awareness, students in ACT III learned to evaluate their own performance, recognize their motivations and manage their anxieties.
“I used to think resiliency was being able to take on everything.”
“I used to think resiliency was being able to take on everything,” she said. Instead, being resilient is understanding what you can’t do and what you need help doing.
For her final project, she chose the song “Free” by 6lack. In the music video, a couple ends up in a spider’s web, content to go through the motions of their relationship. She asked her classmates about their greatest strengths and weaknesses and one thing they most improved upon during their time in ACT III. “I feel like it was important to end on that positive note: You’re already great,” she said.
FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS
For her final project in ACT III, senior mathematics and English major Chloe Crabb focused on one word: remember.
She remembered back to the fall of 2021. The semester had barely started when a good friend died suddenly.
“It was something that I had never experienced before, losing a friend like that, and since it was so sudden it kind of like threw everything upside down,” Crabb said. “Having this class at the same time kind of showed me how resiliency can be applied and how just one step forward can turn into two steps forward can turn into moving back to a normal life.”
To Crabb, resiliency used to be synonymous with “grit,” having strength and resolve to power through. But on the other end of grit are only more challenges. With resiliency, you build up skills to be able to weather everyday life as well as future extreme events — and come out even stronger.
“This is a class that focuses not on a specific subject or on a specific goal, but rather looks at the skills that you have in yourself and how you can apply them to any situation,” said Crabb, who is from Dayton.
She chose the song “Remember Me” from the movie Coco. In her reflection, she shared how in the first half of the semester she focused on remembering her past and applying that to her search for a vocation. The second half of the course, she said, was about memories and building relationships with people around her. Both helped her find solutions in her own life.
She asked her classmates to think of a memory and how it helped them or moved their life forward. “I thought that went pretty well with everything,” she said.
LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE
Junior Angela Galluzzo was talking with a high school student who had had a rough time at a food service job. The student had no car and was late — so much so, that they figured no one else would hire them.
But the student was in luck. Galluzzo, as a student worker at IACT, was at the second-chance high school in Dayton to teach about resiliency, the same concepts she was learning in her ACT III classes.
“Resilience ... is when we are forced to go through these situations, but being able to look back on those situations and grow from them, ... being able to make a better future because of your past,” she said.
Her personal experiences were instructional. Fall semester, the premed major realized she had been so occupied with building her résumé for medical school that she was neglecting basic needs like eating and sleeping. She took a week off of classes to go home to Weldon Spring, Missouri, see her doctor and start rebuilding her mental health and a healthy daily routine. She called it her “kick-start moment.”
With reflection and discussion, both she and the student learned from life events. The student can now talk about skills gained by figuring out bus schedules and taking initiative to plan ahead for transportation. Galluzzo learned about self-care and life balance.
For her song, she chose “Cleopatra” by The Lumineers. The music video shows a taxi driver encountering people during their everyday moments, good and bad. She asked her classmates to consider everyday experiences that affect them the most.
Life experiences don’t have to be huge, traumatic events for us to build resiliency from, she said. “Even if you can’t think of this big thing that happened to you, we do stuff every single day that we learn from and we grow from,” she said.
CONTINUE TO BUILD
The students say they come out of ACT III with skills they can apply to their lives today. They also have the most-needed skill in the workforce, according to LinkedIn.
In collaboration with Education Design Lab, an education innovation nonprofit in Washington, D.C., IACT awards students a resilience micro-credential. This digital badge can be attached to digital résumés and online profiles to help future employers understand how the students transfer and apply resiliency in their lived and learned experiences.
“It really is just reinforcing those skills that students have and giving them the language to transfer that into their next steps, which is exactly what people are looking for right now,” LaDuca said.
And they continue to build on their own stories, with the culmination happening in ACT IV spring semester. Now that students have spent three semesters understanding themselves, they are ready to understand and implement empathy by applying critical discernment to societal issues and
The course again has a creative twist, with the final class project being a podcast.
It’s yet another way the students are sharing how they’ve grown with others. Said Hobson, “I feel like we’re always learning.”