August 12, 2022

This fall, student veterans at Arizona State University will have a new service in their toolkit for academic success: mindfulness workshops designed specifically for their needs.

In association with a research project led by Chris Hammer, a Team USA Triathlon paralympian and ASU Enterprise Enrollment project coordinator, faculty affiliates from the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience will pilot Koru Mindfulness workshops through the Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

The inspiration for the project came to Hammer through his involvement with USA Paralympics, where he trained alongside U.S. service members who had acquired injuries and underwent amputations from military combat.

“Through these experiences, I have become passionate in my desire to find ways to help serve U.S. veterans,” Hammer said.

Hammer, who has a doctorate in sports psychology, was particularly intrigued by the work in mindfulness of fellow sports psychologist George Mumford, who has worked with top-tier athletes including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

“Mindfulness is used by people in all walks of life to both enhance performance as well as to promote well-being,” Hammer said.

RELATED: ASU welcomes world champion triathlete Chris Hammer

Koru is a nationally recognized, structured four-week mindfulness curriculum developed at Duke University and created specifically to create the mental conditions college-age adults need to thrive. 

Specifically, Koru is designed to offer mindfulness-practice-based tools for stress and anxiety reduction, increased focus and productivity, and resilience development.

The program takes its name from a Māori word associated with imagery of an unfurling leaf or fern and symbolic of growth, strength and peace.

This symbolism is appropriate to the goals of the student veteran mindfulness project, and it fits into the Tillman Center’s emphasis on helping students be "powerfully present" in their scholarship and lives.

“We’re excited to be a part of this project,” said Shawn Banzhaf, associate director of student success at the Tillman Center.

“At the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, it is important that we provide a holistic approach to our student veterans' success here at ASU. We are always on the lookout for innovative ways to provide these types of resources, and this project lines up with our mission to give students the support they need to ensure success on their academic journey and beyond,” he said.  

As a central resource hub for the approximately 10,400 military connected students enrolled at ASU, the Tillman Center is an ideal partner with ASU Enterprise Enrollment and the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience for this project.

“Both (the) center and Chris have worked with student veterans in the past,” said Nika Gueci, the center’s executive director. 

“Shawn and his team at Tillman Center deeply, intuitively understand the mindset and needs of these students," she said. "They have been crucial to fine tuning the messaging and delivery of our content, and they have a strong connection to these students and are the trusted messengers to this community. It just makes sense for Tillman Center to be the space these sessions are offered.”

The Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience has hosted facilitator training sessions with Duke University's Koru team in the past and maintains a network of Koru-certified mindfulness instructors at ASU and throughout the Phoenix area. 

That network includes Dawn Augusta and Lisa Jaurigue, clinical faculty with the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Augusta and Jaurigue, in addition to the Herberger Institutes for Design and the Arts faculty associate Barbara Crisp, are center affiliates, and will be facilitating this fall’s Koru sessions.

“The beauty of the Koru curriculum is that it’s an accessible and doable starting point for someone interested in exploring mindfulness and what it has to offer,” said Crisp, who has been a certified Koru instructor since 2018. 

“The skill sets gained from this four-week course enables one to manage the day-to-day challenges of life from a place of equanimity, resilience and ease. It’s life-changing,” she said.

Augusta, who received her Koru teacher certification at the same facilitator training as Crisp, agreed.

“I have seen the transformative impact that these small mindful meditation groups have on individual lives,” Augusta said.

The Koru mindfulness workshops will be available free of charge to a limited number of student veterans through the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. Advanced registration is required, and students are asked to attend all four sessions. 

The first of the three four-week workshop sequences will run from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15, meeting on Thursday afternoons from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Tillman Center’s workshop space in Sun Devil Stadium. 

The subsequent workshop series will take place in mid-September and mid-October. Interested student veterans can inquire directly with Hammer at Christopher.Hammer@asu.edu or visit the registration page.

Enterprise Enrollment and its partnering centers are looking at these sessions as a pilot, for now. 

“James, Chris and their (Enterprise Enrollment) team will be collecting and analyzing data on the training’s impact on this first cohort’s success,” said Zachary Reeves-Blurton, assistant director at the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. 

“(The) center fully supports this effort, as do our partners, so we’ll be looking at the data from Chris’ study and feedback from participants. We know there’s value to the tools Koru provides,” Reeves-Blurton said.

If this series finds a receptive audience, all three units are committed to working to bring it to a wider array of students down the line, as well as promoting and disseminating the research findings.

Top photo by FJ Gaylor