Northwestern's emotional intelligence course aims to foster mental health

    Northwestern's newest push to create a "whole-brained engineer" and focus more on mental health issues has led to Northwestern is offering a brand new class related to mental health in the spring.

    The class is entitled Emotional Intelligence, and will be taught in the McCormick School of Engineering. The class, officially called EI 101: Emotional Intelligence (it's listed under PRDV 395-0 – Special Topics in Personal Development), will focus on giving students the tools to recognize and manage emotions and how to apply this skill to life after college. Although it is being offered through McCormick, it is open to students of all majors.

    The class is the brainchild of Counseling and Psychological Services. CAPS first made the case for the class, and the class’s professors – two of whom are CAPS employees themselves – are hoping that the class will gain enough popularity to have multiple classes in the future.

    “Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in ourselves and others,” said David Shor, assistant director for clinical service at CAPS. “It also includes understanding intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.” Shor will be co-teaching the class with Rob Durr and Joe Holtgreive.

    Shor said that a typical day in class would involve the five main domains of emotional intelligence: stress management, intrapersonal effectiveness, interpersonal awareness, adaptability, and mood and performance. The class would emphasize understanding diversity using a variety of teaching methods, including journal writing.

    The class will focus on areas different than other psychology or health classes. For example, instead of outlining general psychological concepts, the class will steer more toward the practical uses of emotional intelligence. It would include explaining situations students may experience when interacting with people or situations different than they are used to. “It's all about how you relate with people who are different from you, how you deal with stress management, how you develop resiliency, and how you solve problems,” CAPS Executive Director John Dunkle said. “My hope is that students walk away with both a definition and an increase of awareness of emotional intelligence.”

    Dunkle hopes that one day, every student at Northwestern will be required to take the course. Although he is not teaching the course, Dunkle was the first to bring up the class at the Undergraduate Dean’s Council last year. When Dunkle and the rest of the CAPS team presented the idea for the class, McCormick volunteered to take it on as part of its recent push to create a more “whole-brained” engineer. So although the class is only being offered through the engineering school, McCormick is a pilot for the class in its beginning stages.

    Shor believes emotional intelligence is equally as important as intellectual ability.

    “There are usually two groups mentioned for every invention, one who actually came up with the concept, and one who was able to communicate it to people, to convert it into something that can touch people’s lives,” Shor said. “Those [the latter group] are the people we know as the inventors.”

    An example is Alexander Graham Bell, who is popularly known as the inventor of the telephone. In fact, Italian-American Antonio Meucci invented it five years prior, but was unable to patent it before Bell did. Bell was the first one to successfully communicate the usefulness of the two-way talking device to the general public, and so is credited with the invention.

    Joe Holtgreive, the assistant dean of McCormick, also had a large role in the development of the class. “As an Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Engineering, I observed the stress many of our students experience managing their lives […] I have observed the enormously powerful benefits that can be derived from improved emotional intelligence and mindfulness practice,” Holtgrieve wrote in an email. “These are skills that, if practiced regularly, can have a profoundly positive impact on our student’s lives.”

    In a university where leadership positions are coveted and competitive, understanding emotional intelligence may give students an advantage, Dunkle said.

    “Research continues to show that emotional intelligence is highly correlated with leadership, so we’re hoping that students will be able to develop awareness about this to help them become leaders down the road,” Dunkle said. “Our students want to succeed and be leaders, and what a better way to learn about it than through this course?”


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