Heidi Larson is always thinking of her students.
Larson, an associate professor in the department of Counseling and Student Development, said she wants students to feel welcomed and engaged while at Eastern.
“Students are a lot more to me than a person at a desk in my class,” Larson said. “They’re part of who I am.”
Larson uses the textbooks, theories, techniques and research to teach students, but says it’s much more than that. Connections and relationships play a big role in learning.
“It’s about who you are as a soul, as a person, and when those two come together and they realize ‘I’m growing and can help others grow’ they want to read more and come to class to learn,” Larson said.
As the students are learning and growing, Larson said she learning from the students and faculty as well. To be able to teach and do research is important to Larson.
Larson has dedicated four years to researching test anxiety and its treatment with fellow faculty and students in the program.
The group has researched how the third grade class at Carl Sandburg Elementary prepared for the ISAT test. They asked the question: do third graders get nervous before taking tests, specifically standardized test? The answer was absolutely.
“Their bellies hurt, they didn’t sleep well, they had headaches, and they were only nine years old,” Larson said.
After that, they went on to research Charleston High School juniors who were preparing for the ACT. Larson’s group worked with a couple hundred students twice a week for five weeks during P.E. classes to teach students how to relax and use deep breathing techniques that could benefit them before and during the tests to minimize anxiety.
The results? Students were less stressed, but the ACT score never increased. After research and re-evaluation, Larson’s group introduced gum into the study for the following year’s junior class. The study found that students who implemented relaxation strategies and chewed gum had a higher ACT score.
Larson said she never would have been able to do this study without fellow researchers and graduate students.
“We’re counselors, so our relationships with people are really important and I think what goes beyond the research is the mentoring,” Larson said. “Mentoring about how you can learn from me as a professor and how I can learn from you as a student outside of the classroom.”
This study was featured in Time magazine with interviews from Larson and a student from Carl Sandburg.
“It’s not about completion, it’s about the journey and the understanding and the experience as much as the outcomes,” Larson said. “We really care about people and relationships and paying it forward.”