News Center

‘Well-Being Book Club’ Provides Connection and Life Lessons During Remote Learning

November 11, 2020 – In a pandemic-affected semester when classes are all online and nothing feels normal, members of the Hendrix community still have found ways to connect with each other. One of those avenues: the Well-Being Coalition Book Club, which has provided a weekly gathering for a group of 17 students, faculty, and staff to read, discuss, and learn together.

The group gathers on Wednesday nights to work its way through the book U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) by Daniel Lerner and Alan Schlecter, M.D.

The reading and weekly discussion hours will yield the students credit for an Odyssey Program Special Project at the end of the semester. But the benefits go beyond satisfying a requirement for graduation – and participants are realizing the value right now.

Jim Wiltgen, dean of students, and Dr. Lindsay Kennedy, a psychology professor and director of the Hendrix Well-Being Initiative, started the semester as the group’s facilitators. Dr. Mary Anne Seibert ’94, the College’s director of Counseling Services, joined in later, when Kennedy went on family leave to welcome a new child.

“While Zoom fatigue is a challenge for all of us, this group is something I look forward to each week,” Wiltgen said.

Christine Donakey ’21, a psychology major, saw the book club invitation in the Hendrix Today campus-wide announcement email. Donakey, who took a course on emotions from Kennedy last semester, looks up to both Kennedy and Wiltgen, so the opportunity to be part of a discussion group with them sparked her interest. 

“The book itself is wonderful, and has had a great impact on my well-being, especially with being off campus,” she said. “Having something to do each week to focus on my mental health, and also getting to have a community where we’re able to just sit down and talk has been really nice, because usually you get that a lot on campus.” 

Donakey said the group discussions have “definitely gotten into a flow” that has fostered relationship building among the members. Student participants have come from all four class years, and the Hendrix senior believes that diversity has helped her find significant connection with people she might not have otherwise gotten to know.

Options the book offers for action “pushed it from just reading the book and coming to the book club to doing the things that you’re learning about,” she said. “You really got the opportunity to discuss how it impacted your life that week.”

Victoria Ortega ’23, a biochemistry major, is earning her first Odyssey Program credit through the book club and has valued the experience as a change of pace in a semester where her studies focus primarily on the sciences. “I think the biggest thing is that I’ve gotten to interact with different people in the Hendrix community,” she said. “Even if it’s through a computer, it’s still nice to connect. I’m excited to get back to campus and see these people that I’ve met virtually.”

One chapter of U Thrive had participants take an assessment of what motivates them. “I had never taken a quiz like that before, so it was really helpful to know what I should focus on as motivation,” Ortega said. She also appreciated how chapters on nutrition and sleep, two necessities that can fall by the wayside during times of stress, reinforced that prioritizing healthy habits can translate to more success in work, school, and life. “Being able to read a chapter that reminds us of things that will help us succeed will help me take care of myself more,” Ortega said.

Ian Campbell ’23 appreciates Wiltgen, Kennedy, and Seibert for their investment in the Well-Being Book Club. “They seem less like faculty during those meetings. They’re not only there to just listen to the students, but they participate and offer their own viewpoints,” he said. “They’re really part of the group.”

Ortega also has found it helpful to interact with the participating faculty and staff members, all of whom demonstrate their care for students. “They acknowledge the difficulty of being online and in a pandemic and with everything that’s going on in the world,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”

For the Spring 2021 semester, when most students plan to return to campus for in-person instruction, some members of this group will be part of the Well-Being Living-Learning Community housed in the Market Square South building of the Village at Hendrix. Campbell, a computer science and biochemistry double-major, is among them. He was set to join the living-learning community this semester before the pandemic changed plans for in-person instruction, so he values the book club as a way to connect despite not having the living-learning setting available.

“When I saw there was an opportunity to build community even though we weren’t on campus, that caught my interest,” Campbell said, noting that the book’s chapters are organized around different aspects of a college student’s life. “Some of my favorite chapters have been the one on positive emotions and the one on mental health. We have been able to come together every week and talk about how we are situated in these different parts of life. I like the community of it all, and I think it’s been helpful for a lot of people in the group to realize that they aren’t alone in a time like this.” 

Seibert, the director of Counseling Services, considered it an honor that Wiltgen asked her to co-lead the discussions with him while Kennedy is on leave. Like Wiltgen, she sees the book club as a highlight of her week. 

“I have really enjoyed working with the Dean, and I have absolutely loved getting to know the students, who are actively engaged in each discussion. They have such lovely and encouraging words of wisdom to share with the group and are so supportive of one another,” she said. “Their honesty, insight, and awareness are impressive. I admire their openness and willingness to tackle some challenging topics, such as stress, relationships, willpower, mental health, and more.”

Seibert acknowledged that while college can certainly be “the best years of your life,” it also can be difficult personally, academically, and socially. “U Thrive normalizes some of these struggles and strives to help students manage them in constructive ways in order to lead rich, meaningful lives.” 

Donakey, who plans to work in behavioral health with children and families after graduate school, said she would recommend U Thrive to fellow students, especially those in their first years of college — but also said the benefit isn’t limited to people in that stage of life: “The Dean has said he has really found a lot of things in the book helpful, too. It’s research that applies to everybody.”

About Hendrix College 

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit