Today more than ever, dealing with stress is a vital part of college life. Along with common stressors, students must also contend with altogether new concerns due to the current environment regarding COVID-19: maintaining their health and the health of their loved ones; managing uncertain timelines for future course schedules; and complying with social distancing practices, to name a few.
These issues are at the heart of the work of Dr. Monica Galloway Burke, Associate Professor in WKU’s Department of Counseling and Student Affairs and Clinical Coordinator of the Student Affairs in Higher Education Program. “When we’re stressed, we don’t operate to our fullest capacity,” Dr. Burke says. “So, it’s vital to relax, engage in self-care, understand the mind-body connection, find ways to self-regulate, and learn how to utilize these tools when we’re stressed and overwhelmed.”
The primary role of a student affairs professional is to help college students deal with developmental transitions and cope with emotional difficulties. Becoming effective in this profession requires the complex integration of intrapersonal, interpersonal and professional knowledge, and Dr. Burke’s work is the embodiment of this.
Conducting vital research on student stress
Dr. Burke had begun to notice an increase in the stress levels of many of her Graduate students. This led her to design and conduct a research project to aid students in both measuring and managing their stress using mindfulness and other techniques.
Utilizing her background in both mental health counseling and diversity studies, Dr. Burke’s project examined her own students. With assistance from Dr. Lacretia Dye, a Certified Yoga Instructor, Psychologist, and Mindfulness Coach, Dr. Burke first assessed the stress levels of her students using several methods: a general efficacy scale; a four-dimensional mood scale; perceived stress scale; and focus group research.
Next, Dr. Burke and Dr. Dye instructed the students to utilize deep breathing exercises, visualization, relaxion exercises, yoga, and other techniques to become more mindful of their moods and to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. Although many of the students were initially skeptical, Dr. Burke was happy to find a significant majority of the students truly found the strategies beneficial in managing their stress, and planned to use them for self-soothing and stress reduction navigation in the future.
Empowering other leaders to assist college students in managing stress
Dr. Burke began to note that higher education professionals who worked with students, from university advisors to faculty, needed specific skills to aid them in effectively helping students enhancing their well-being. Thus, in collaboration with several colleagues Dr. Burke wrote her first book, Helping Skills for Working with College Students–a textbook for student affairs and higher education graduate programs and a useful aid for student affairs professionals and faculty.
For graduate students preparing to become student affairs practitioners, this textbook provides the skills necessary to facilitate the process of truly helping students. It also helps practitioners understand how to respond to student concerns and crises, including how to make referrals to appropriate campus or community resources. Focusing on counseling concepts and applications essential for effective student affairs practice, this book develops the conceptual frameworks, basic counseling skills, and interventions that are necessary for student affairs practitioners to be effective, compliant, and ethical in their helping and advising roles.
Dr. Burke decided to write this book because she noticed many of her students would reflect upon their undergraduate experience and discuss how they were craving staff that truly cared about their well-being. “The faculty and staff need to feel comfortable having hard conversations with students who are in difficult mental spaces,” she says. “It is not uncommon for students to say: ‘I feel like I don’t belong,’ or even to have thoughts of suicidality, which is more common in university students than one would think. Our staff need to be trained and ready to have these conversations and help students proactively navigate whatever concerns they might face in college and in life.” Dr. Burke is currently finalizing another book due out in August entitled Helping College Students in Distress—A Faculty Guide. This work, co-authored with Dr. Karl Laves, Psychologist in the Counseling Center at WKU, and her colleagues Dr. Jill Sauerheber and Dr. Aaron Hughey, will act as a guide for faculty to address stress, mental health, and emotional issues in assisting their students.
As the editors conversed and consulted with faculty about student distress in higher education over time, they would often hear confusion, frustration, uncertainty, as well as a commonality of occurrences. They often indicated they wished there was a book to guide them through the process of working with students in distress. The book includes stories and viewpoint of various faculty which includes recommendations, strategies, and questions for reflection. The purpose of the book is to provide a framework and a roadmap, not a paint-by-numbers, cookie-cutter approach, to helping students in distress.
Working to share students’ research findings through publication
In addition to assisting students with managing stress than can impede their work, Dr. Burke is also engaged in empowering her students to share their research findings via publication in academic journals and books. In 2019, Dr. Burke also co-edited a three-volume book series entitled No Ways Tired: The Journey for Professionals of Color in Student Affairs. One of her star graduate students, Jasmine Kelly, wrote a key chapter in in this book entitled When Grateful Isn’t Good Enough: How African American Women Can Successfully and Strategically Navigate Professionally in Student Affairs.
Dr. Burke’s groundbreaking work has been lauded across the region. She has been recognized for her deep commitment to the health and well-being of students, and to empowering them to excel academically and in life. She has received numerous distinguished awards throughout her career including: the WKU Faculty Mentoring Award (2018), the Melvene Draheim Hardee Award from the Southern Association for College Student Affairs (2017), the Faculty Award for Student Advisement from the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences (2014 and 2018), and the WKU Faculty Award for Research and Creative Activity from The College of Educational and Behavioral Sciences (2017 and 2020).
Ultimately, Dr. Burke’s work is important because it empowers students and individuals who go on to empower others in their communities. “I’m rooted to what my parents taught me about the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” she says. “We must lift up others in the community, and play our part by serving others, volunteering and engaging. That is the spirit of WKU!”
To learn more about Dr. Burke and her work please visit https://www.wku.edu/csa/staff/monica_burke.