The nitty-gritty of college student success

A research project into how student athletes recover from concussions has turned into a strategic tool to help students as they transition to college life.

Researchers at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, where nearly 40 percent of students are also Division III athletes, wanted to determine not only how an injury would affect performance on the field, but also in the classroom.

“There is a lot of research around what happens to a student athlete from the athletic side, but there’s not much relating to the academic side,” says Jessica Ickes, associate dean of academic affairs and director of institutional research.

The researchers used UPenn psychology professor Angela Duckworth’s “Grit Scale” to control for what impact grit may have on athletic injury and student outcomes.

SIDEBAR: Sample “Grit Scale” questions

Grit, as Duckworth explained in a TED presentation (, is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out—not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

“Once we saw those preliminary results we wondered whether this is something that can impact all our students,” says Laura Eldred, director of Constellation, Lebanon Valley’s core curriculum program.

“Should we teach grit as a way for students to better achieve their goals?”

Grit in transition to college

In 2017, the college made grit part of its first-year experience course for incoming freshmen.

“Institutional surveys show us that students experience challenges when they have setbacks, whether it is an injury or whether it’s an initial F on an important test in the first month or two,” says Eldred.

“I believe that once our school admits students, we have a responsibility to do what we can to make them successful.”

Eventually, grit will become part of the college’s fabric, with all students, faculty and staff participating in the grit assessment.

Although she knows of no other school using the same tool for its assessments, Eldred says grit is a way to measure and get movement on issues related to growth mindset and motivation.

“We have a very flexible curriculum that is constantly trying to adapt to what we know about our students, and combined with research, we can look at data and use it quickly to address their needs.”


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