“Hope on a Budget” by Alexa Dimakos

March 21, 2012

During the 31st Annual Conference on The First-Year Experience, I attended a panel titled “Positive Psychology and Student Development.” At first, I was a bit skeptical. Positive Psychology? What does that even mean? Am I going to be sitting in a room where everyone talks about hugging and rainbows?

However, I thought that if this positive psychology has anything to do with helping our students feel more hopeful and more positive about their college experience it was a panel worth attending. I also thought that during a time when education is dealing with budget cuts, fewer class offering, fewer teachers and stiffer competition in the job market, students might need a little positive reinforcement and maybe even a few more rainbows.

During this panel, the presenters projected their mission statement geared towards their incoming freshman (or for all their students, really):

“To educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care for other persons, their community and for the earth.“

When I read and heard this, I thought, “Isn’t that an idea we should all try to instill in our students?” What struck me about the mission statement was that it was broad enough so that it could be interpreted by all universities differently and adapted to their own campus culture as they saw fit. What I also thought was significant was that it wasn’t about being successful as a freshman or even as a college student, but educating students for their lives.


The presenters also came up with 5 character strengths they wanted to instill in their freshman. These were:

  1. Hope
  2. Curiosity
  3. Zest or Energy
  4. Persistence
  5. Compassion

The theory behind introducing and reinforcing the importance of these character strengths to students was multifaceted. One aspect they mentioned was that, although students may not be able to fully grasp these concepts in their first year, reiterating the value of having these strengths could help students view their college experience more positively.  Furthermore, these 5 points seemed pretty easy to remember.

Also, the presenters focused on a retreat their in-coming freshman students volunteered to attend. The student would focus on learning about and discussing the 5 strengths listed above and analyzing, deconstructing and applying the mission statement to their own hopes related to college and success.


Alexa Dimakos teaches Freshman Seminar and English courses at California State University, Northridge. Dimakos has been teaching at California State University, Northridge for nearly six years and has been involved with Building Connections for Success since Spring 2012. 

  • tgreenleaf

    Great article!