As another challenging school year comes to a close at Southern Methodist University, we continue to discuss ways to help students not just survive but thrive as their final projects are turned in and they prepare for another finals week where many are not on campus. Finals week events used to create community – for example, I led an in-person event in December 2019 where we had partnered with Pet Partners to bring dogs into the library for an emotional break. We worked with campus dining to have late night nacho bars and waffles, and we had a brain breaks table that encouraged students to play with LEGOs and color pictures when they needed a little rest from chemistry or literature or politics.

[Image description: Several students sit on the floor in a corner of the library, petting a dog on a blanket. Taken in December 2019, before masks and social distancing were a requirement throughout campus.]

When everything shut down a few months later, it was difficult to quickly change what we had done into something that would work remotely. As a group, we interns created a short video to encourage students from afar, but we knew it wasn’t nearly enough. The following term, as students returned to campus for Fall 2020, but with masks and social distancing (and the fact that we wanted to discourage too much common use tools), we built a research guide to point students to puppy cams and yoga sequences. But without much marketing, it was little used, and we continued to discuss how to reach out to our students.

We are now facing our third finals week under some form of limitations, but I feel we have upped our game to try to encourage students and help them de-stress, knowing that they did not have spring break this year and even lost days off around Easter to make up for the crazy storm we had in February. A lot of this is the result of a partnership with the Meadows Museum that is here on campus. They proposed several craft kits that we could put out for students to pick up at Fondren, and coloring nights at the museum where students can color in the midst of works of art.

We strove to meet their challenge and have worked hard to advertise the partnership and ways for students to take a brain break and stay mentally healthy. We have put up our brain breaks tables again, with coloring sheets and individually wrapped colored pencils (and a bin encouraging students to return pencils for sanitization). A sign above the table promotes the updated research guide, with a QR code that students can scan to open the page. Another table features the craft kits, in individual paper bags that include most of the supplies and a copy of the instructions, with signs encouraging students to take one.

[Image description: A graphic with a piece of art depicting a stressed-out scholar surrounded by books on the right, and text on the left that reads, “Feel like this? DIY & De-stress with Tools from SMU Libraries and the Meadows Museum. Visit our Brain Breaks Tables by study room 101 in the Prothro Learning Commons at Fondren Library: Coloring pages, craft kits, and more!” followed by the logo for SMU Libraries.]

But the difference this semester is that we’re working directly with marketing to promote all of this. I’ve confirmed with our marketing contact that students will learn about these opportunities through emails and social media. And he asked me to create a slide (see above) for the TV screens posted throughout the library that advertise various events in the library and throughout campus. So the students that come to the library in person should see the tables, and the slide promoting them, and the students that cannot come to campus will, at the least, receive notice of the research guide with ideas for how to stay well. It may not be quite as soothing as petting a dog during a study break, but I hope this helps a few more students manage their health as another term comes to a close.

Photograph taken by and graphic created by Joanna Russell Bliss.