CWB Scholars to Study Social Networks, Stress, and Well-Being among Mason’s LLC Students

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Director

CWB Scholars to Study Social Networks, Stress, and Well-Being among Mason’s LLC Students

Two of our center’s senior scholars, Drs. Olga Kornienko and Pamela Garner, have designed an innovative well-being research study to assess stress among Mason students. Olga Kornienko, Ph.D., and Pamela Garner, Ph.D., will conduct the study during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters in Mason’s Living Learning Communities (LLCs) on the Fairfax campus.

“We will use a quasi-experimental longitudinal design to describe trajectories of adaptation, well-being, and academic functioning among students in several LLCs … Participating students will be assessed several times during the year, and provide self-report data on their peer networks, resources and strategies, stress, and adjustment outcomes. They will donate saliva so we can measure hormone cortisol, which is a physiological marker of stress,” said Kornienko, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, and Garner, Professor of Childhood Studies and Human Development and Family Science in the School of Integrative Studies.

Researching this topic is important to them, they said, because, “Navigating college life is challenging, with many students reporting increases in depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and sleep disruptions. According to an American College Health Association report, in 2016 students’ mental and physical health issues were among the top reasons interfering with their academic performance and increasing the risk of dropping out of college. College can be challenging for students because they need to develop new peer networks, rigorous academic routines, and independent living in an unfamiliar environment with limited sources of support from their families. Success in achieving these tasks depends on a match of resilience resources leading to reduced stress levels and improved well-being and academic outcomes, whereas a lack of match and strained resources contribute to elevated stress levels and challenges to adaptation.”

Kornienko and Garner noted that, "We currently do not know what aspects of social connections for what kind of students within LLCs are uniquely predictive of students’ success in navigating and thriving in this transition. Answering these questions is essential for improving student social and learning experiences in college and beyond.”

The data that results from this research study can lead to a new intervention program that empowers students to significantly strengthen their well-being, said Kornienko and Garner. “Our goal in this study is to identify what individual and social sources of resilience help students to successfully navigate the academic and independent living demands of college life and to foster supportive social connections and downregulate the stressful impact of negative social relationships. We believe that among these sources of resilience are student’s emotion regulation, growth mindset, social support, and belonging. We hope to use the knowledge from this research to develop, optimize, and deliver a brief (single-session) growth mindset intervention to promote school belonging. Such intervention programs are especially promising for the first generation and ethnically-racially diverse students.”

Kornienko and Garner both said they are looking forward to collaborating with our center’s network on campus as they work to help Mason’s students. “We are grateful for CWB’s support of our efforts to advance the basic science of well-being by focusing on the role of social connections and stress using rigorous research design and advanced methodologies (social network analysis and salivary bioscience methods). We value CWB’s emphasis on promoting collaborative partnerships with Residential Life and LLCs and their support and active engagement in this research study.”