February 22, 2018
Jason Behnke '19 and Jennifer Wortham, associate professor of health sciences and human performance, researched college retention in terms of student happiness.
Behnke presented the research at the Feb. 9-11 conference of the Florida Collegiate Honors Council.
Bobby Bones is a syndicated country music radio show host, just inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, who is heard on more than 100 radio stations and will be part of the new American Idol cast. One of his regular features on his morning show includes shout outs of positivity where members of his crew give reasons why the day is good and how they can help others have a better one.
Avid country music fan Jennifer Wortham, associate professor of health sciences and human performance, has self-proclaimed that she has drunk the Bobby Bones Kool-Aid.
"I believe in Bobby Bones and what he does. I'm all in," Wortham said.
In Fall 2016, Wortham was teaching a first-year experience course (Pathways to Honors) to 16 Honors Program students that begins their intellectual journey and assists each student in adjusting to and thriving in a University environment. Wortham's course was also an inquiry-based class that is part of a greater University-wide effort to increase undergraduate research and inquiry.
Students read Bones' book (New York Times bestseller Bare Bones: I'm Not Lonely If You're Reading This Book) and came up with a research project based on the glass-half-full mentality that every day can be a good day.
"We wanted to take a look at what makes college students have a good day," said Jason Behnke '19. "Once we started gathering the data, we realized it could lead to higher retention rates. If students are having a good day or more students are having a good day, the higher your retention rate would be."
Wortham's class designed a survey to ask their peers what things contribute to having a good day and what things detract, with the end goal to decipher if the things UT is spending money on for student retention are the types of things students report as reasons for their daily sense of happiness.
During Spring 2017, Wortham's students canvassed campus at different days and times to get a variety of student feedback in the surveys, which ended up numbering just over 1,000. Wortham's students had to code the data, enter it in Excel and then double-check that the data was inputted correctly. Then, Wortham, Honors mentor Daniela Delvescovo '17 and Behnke computed the statistical analysis.
"I volunteered to help with any of the math or statistical stuff, because I enjoy it," said Behnke, a sport management major from Chicago, who decided to continue with the project when the class ended last May. He presented the findings, "Everyday is a good day: can universities apply The Bobby Bones Show and increase retention," at this February's Florida Collegiate Honors Council Conference, and Wortham said they hope to submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal by the end of this summer. (Magaleate Kostelnik '20, a marine science-biology major who works in the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, won first prize in the fine arts contest at the conference as well).
"What's great is that a class project is being taken all the way through," Wortham said.
The team's pilot study and resulting hypothesis was that students would focus happiness on food options, availability of alcohol/drugs and sexual experiences. The results, while favorable for food, didn't include alcohol/drugs nor sexual experiences. Instead, students were more concerned with the weather, their academic performance for the day and the relationships they had with their friends.
"Those things on our college campus were at 1 percent, which means kids only picked those items 1 percent of the time, which we thought was pretty impressive, because that means that the kids on our campus are not thinking that drugs, alcohol and sex are factors in what allows their day to be good, which is great," Wortham said.
Another surprise for the team was in their prediction that females would say academic performance impacts their happiness, whereas the data proved that was truer for males, by a large margin. Food was also a larger factor for females than it was for males, disproving the team's hypothesis.
Of all elements mentioned by students in making their day good or better, around 50 percent were factors universities could control. There were differences between male and female responses, between students living on or off campus, and whether they were employed or not.
"Overall, many university fees do go into programs that focus on commonly mentioned dynamics related to student daily happiness," the team wrote in the presentation abstract. "However, universities may be overlooking simpler ways to increase student daily happiness beyond expensive programming."
Examples reported by students as factors in their everyday happiness included having more opportunities to travel (such as off-campus trips to area theme parks, which currently sell-out when offered), increasing hours and classes at the Fitness Center, attendance at which was highly reported as a factor in everyday happiness, and acts of kindness (free food, stress-relief events and feel-good activities throughout the year, not just at the first week of school and around exams).
Behnke said the experience helped him learn time management skills as well as technical skills in mastering the SPSS statistical analysis software. It's something he's applying to his part-time job with SponsorUnited, where he started his freshman year as an intern and has parlayed that into a part-time position as a market manager. He oversees four markets, collecting and processing data that helps sports teams better target sponsorship opportunities.
After the conference presentation, Wortham tweeted with photos of Behnke, "This happened today. Got a very positive reception. Student nailed the talk with enthusiasm. Thank you @mrBobbyBones and the @bobbybonesshow for the inspiration. Thank you @UofTampa for sponsoring," and she received a "hey hey. That's awesome," retweet from Bones as well as the show.
That day was indeed a good day.
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