CAPS partners with McCormick to pilot emotional intelligence class

Lauren Caruba, In Focus Editor

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The campus discussion on mental and emotional health has made its way into the classroom.

As part of a pilot course within the McCormick School of Engineering, this spring 31 students are assessing their emotional intelligence and learning “soft skills” that will help them succeed in college and later in the workplace. Developed over the past year in conjunction between McCormick and Northwestern’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the class is launching as students call for more discussion on mental health issues in the wake of Weinberg junior Alyssa Weaver’s suicide while studying abroad last year.

Although intellectual and technical skills are important, emotional intelligence skills play a big role in a person’s success, said CAPS psychologist Rob Durr, who developed the course with David Shor, assistant director for clinical services. The class will address an area tackled in many introduction-to-college types of classes, he said.

“We notice that a lot of our students, they’ve had to focus so far on the intellectual and educational development to get into Northwestern that oftentimes there’s room to develop in the emotional, social skills,” Durr said.

The course, which will be primarily discussion-based, will focus on applying emotional intelligence skills like stress management, self perception and decision-making to everyday situations. It will also track the development of students’ emotional intelligence, evaluating them at the beginning and end of the class.

Rather than just teach the concept of emotional intelligence, Durr said the goal of the course is to equip students with essential personal management skills.

“We’re providing skills in psychoeducation that’s going to equip students with stress management techniques and skills that they need to cope with the stress of college,” Durr said.

Learning how to work in groups and different environments is something McCormick senior Olivia Gann is thinking about a lot as she prepares to graduate this June. She said she enrolled in the course to learn how to maximize her workplace efficiency. Those skills also relate to the high-pressure environment of college, she added.

“There’s just a lot of motivation and a lot of determination going on, and it’s easy to get caught up in that and lose sight of what you’re actually trying to do, which is learn,” Gann said. “It’s an especially relevant class here for instilling priorities.”

Approaching the topic of emotional health in a classroom setting will also make the discussion more accessible to students, who may not always feel able or comfortable approaching CAPS with their personal issues, Gann said.

“CAPS as a resource doesn’t reach everyone,” she said. “This sort of covers another ground and touches on the issue from a different perspective.”

The introduction of the new class accompanies recent efforts by CAPS to expand its staff and services, which students have criticized this year, especially following Weaver’s death in November. CAPS is currently seeking funds from the University to add four psychologists, who will specialize in areas like suicide prevention, minority groups and peer mentoring. An Essential NU focusing on mental health was recently added to Wildcat Welcome orientation programming for incoming freshmen.

CAPS executive director John Dunkle said the goal is to improve the staff-to-student ratio, currently at 1 to 1,211. Increasing the number of staffers until the ratio is 1 to 940 would align NU more with peer institutions, he said.

Dunkle said the pilot course fits with attempts this year to leverage student feedback in improving services. CAPS also recently increased the hours at its stress clinic, which now offers drop-in times for students.

“We’re really trying to gradually increase what we can offer,” Dunkle said.