Professor of Psychology Heidi Harley sent an email to the 2020 graduates on April 9 asking for submissions on behalf of her lab class in order to create a website dedicated to thesis students’ “memories and discoveries.” The course, The Wellbeing of Humans and Other Animals, has shifted gears in the second module of the spring semester in order to focus on designing a website to preserve a sense of community among thesis students and encourage them to share their stories with New College and each other.
Through a link to a Google Drive titled “Parallel Worlds – NCF 2020s Wellbeing Project,” thesis students are encouraged to submit pictures, quotes and stories of their times at New College, as well as well wishes and advice for future students. Each category comes with their own submission guidelines meant to ensure the privacy of contributors, such as obtaining written permission to post pictures featuring other students and having users submit content under aliases.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic forced most students off campus and classes online, Harley and her lab class, a course addressing advanced psychology and wellbeing, had been studying wellness across species with a focus on dolphins and residents of memory care units. During the first module of the spring semester, students read and prepared research projects through interviews and other student-designed activities, meant to carry them into the second module. Instead, Harley restructured the course to focus on developing and collecting data for this website, both to accommodate being away from campus and to redirect what her students have learned about wellbeing psychology thus far to give back to 2020 graduates. Harley says that ideally, this project will combat some of the feelings of having lost experiences that thesis students may be struggling with.
“All kinds of activities that people do together, even really pedestrian things like cooking together or eating together, going to the library or being in class together and bigger events that they were going to do together suddenly weren’t going to be there,” said Harely. “Since we study wellbeing, we thought that this could be a way of enhancing the wellbeing of the graduating class.”
Harley says that her students will still utilize the same skills and theories they picked up in the first module, just with a new focus on thesis students. In the original email, Harley requested that the first “round” of content be submitted by April 13, but has since amended this to a rolling deadline. The students in the course have been broken into groups to handle the different categories of submissions, but Harley is taking suggestions for new types of content. For example, after receiving an email from a student requesting a section for commencement costumes, the subgroup was added to the “Photos” folder, and may potentially become its own category.
Currently, the website is planned to launch on April 22 and will include an optional anonymous entrance and exit survey meant to catalogue how the viewer feels upon coming to and leaving the website to measure whether it had any effect on mood. The data collected from these surveys will be used for the final papers of the students in the lab class.
“We hope that you’ll take the surveys,” Harley said. “But if you can’t do that then we want you just to visit the website because we want to honor the graduates, however people have time and ability to do that.”
Content will continue to be added to the website after its publication and Harley has hope that it could become a New College tradition after this semester ends if others are willing to continue this project. At the very least, Harley said that she would like the website to continue to have content for 2020 graduates up until their delayed in-person commencement ceremony, which is currently projected to be on Dec. 5.
Harley says that she hopes that this website will offer some solace to thesis students as they continue to write their theses, prepare for baccalaureate exams and persevere through technological and distance limitations.
“The reason that we chose to do this specific thing and chose this population is the same reason that we initially chose the animal and the memory care residents: we care about the group of people and thought that maybe we could help,” Harley said.
Harley encourages students to continue to submit content if they have something they would like to share, not just for the data and experience it provides her students, but for the chance to create a sense of community for 2020 graduates in this difficult time and possibly even create a new tradition for the community in the years to come.