John Dewey stated that it is not in the experience that we learn, it is in reflecting on the experience in which we learn."
When I started the Bush Fellowship I had a goal in mind of creating a curriculum of mental health well-being to be taught in elementary and high school settings. I thought about this because the North Dakota youth suicide rate is twice as high as the national average. The North Dakota youth suicide rate used to be three times as higher than the national average, but the national average has increased along with the North Dakota rate over the past three years. I still have this goal in mind and will work toward accomplishing it.
The journey of this fellowship however has not been about completing that project. The journey has been about creating a change in me. The change that was encouraged was to become a wiser, stronger leader. A leader who could create positive change in our region. In order to become a wiser, stronger leader, I created challenges of personal growth in mind, body and spirit.
The challenge in the growth of mind has been achieved thus far by going back to school for my PhD in Institutional Analysis and Organizational Leadership through the college of Education at North Dakota State University. I just completed by second year and have two semesters of course work and a dissertation remaining. I anticipate completing the program next summer, just three years after starting. I have learned so much in this program that would have been so good to know while I was the Chief Operating Officer of a hospital. There I could have better served the staff, the patients and the teams I worked with. In my research work regarding the mental health well-being in schools, I learned that schools in the United States used to have a mental hygiene program until roughly the 1950's. The education completed at that time was supported due to the low moral of youth during the times of war and the great depression. Quotes like, "it is better to teach our youth in the classroom instead of the asylums" were noted. Mental health screenings were done and needed services were provided largely at schools. While I researched global trends of youth suicide I found countries that have made significant strides forward like Finland. Then I found countries, like New Zealand, that topped the chart for rates of youth suicide. I had the opportunity to do a research project in New Zealand last fall and participated in four schools that were implementing a well-being curriculum. The curriculum addresses the whole student by addressing well-being in the social, spiritual, mental/emotional and physical realms in phy-ed, mainstream classrooms as well as home rooms. Relationships and connections were key components to this success. While in New Zealand I had the wonderful good fortunate to meet and spend time with Dr. Lucy Hone on multiple occasions. She is an inspiration and is leading the change in New Zealand as the co-director of the New Zealand Institute of Resilience and Well-being. Learning from her and including her in my research was a gift and a highlight of my time in New Zealand.
The coursework for school has provided me with many tools on leadership through strategic planning, quality assurances and implementation plans, evaluation methods to know the change you are making is the one you want to make! There is still so much to research and learn in the arena of youth and mental health well being. I can be busy for a long time if I choose to. After being awarded this fellowship, I started going to school nearly full time and continued working full time as a COO in a hospital. Additionally, I wrote a grant with Kim Mertz, from the North Dakota Department of Health. The grant was for Pediatric Mental Health Care Access. We wrote it in two fast and furious weeks in August of 2018. I submitted the last page of the budget from a cabin in the woods near the base of Mt. Rainier as my plan was to climb it the next day! The opportunity for the grant was too good to pass up. The chance to get to bring mental health care to rural ND clinics and schools was exciting. In September of 2018, we were awarded the 2.5 million dollar grant as one of seventeen states in the country and were to develop a model of care delivery to increase pediatric mental health care access. The year of 2019 was spent creating a work plan and developing partnerships to make the plan successful. The grant was a bit on hiatus while I was away in the fall. Upon my return from New Zealand, I left my position as the COO of the hospital and joined the Center for Bio Behavioral Research. Today with tremendous support from the Center of Bio Behavioral Research and the Department of Health, we have the first multi agency, interdisciplinary treatment team in the state ready to provide mental health consultations throughout rural North Dakota where resources to specialty care is woefully lacking. This brings me one step closer to serving youth in schools as well. In March of 2020, I was working with a team to establish tele behavioral health care delivery in two schools prior to COVID. With the portability of technology however, those children were able to keep their tele health visits with their therapists while at home on the computer or iPad. My heart has been full to be able to have the opportunity to create and work with such passionate care providers bringing innovative care to kids in the rural stretches of our state where they would otherwise likely not get any. I remain hopeful our projects create the desirable change we are after, but rest assured I will have the data to support the outcomes.
The spiritual growth started in March of 2019 when I completed the ten day silent Vipassana Buddhist retreat on a mountain top in O'ahu, Hawaii. It was recommended by my acupuncture therapist who knew I had a hard time being still long enough for an acupuncture session. I won't forget how he clearly told me, my challenge is to sit and be quiet! Not many could probably get away with telling me that, but he has apparently treated me long enough to know he was right. The days of sitting and then sitting without movement in the strong sits of determination were painful physically and at times flooding emotionally. At the end of the ten days, I was exhausted due to all the cognitive work. Those that know me well, know that I don't sit for long. I spend a great deal of time and energy keeping myself distracted from that. I can say that I learned by spending time being quiet and continuing that practice upon returning, energy returns. I am more focused and in ways restored through the process of quiet time in Vipassana meditation, which is inwardly focused not outwardly. The biggest term for me to grasp and practice was equanimity, the process of not moving from that which is bad or toward that which is good, but to be in a space that could be uncomfortable and to be patient and with grace while in that space. Still a work in progress! The spiritual growth continues as I read and learn to practice more of what I have read or been instructed to do. At some point in 2019 I learned to block my schedule for all the various women's connect events and actually take that time to go to do all the things they tell you to do at such events. Usually a lot of self care talk and motivation to do more. I didn't need to do more however, I needed to create time to do less and worked toward that!
The challenge for my body was training with the Project Athena group to complete a Rim to Rim to Rim in August of 2019. The was inspired, ironically, by author Robyn Benincasa, who presented at a Chamber Women Connect in 2018. She presented on her global eco challenge endurance races and her book, "How Winning Works." I was awe struck by her and wanted to do an event with her. A year later, we were heading out of the canyon onto the south rim together, just having completed the 50ish mile rim-to-rim-to-rim. On the way up and out we were chatting about how I struggled earlier in the climb in part because of the heat being at 110 degrees and I was dizzy. It took about twenty minutes for me to recover, while walking light and someone else, the Reaper, carrying my gear for me. I disliked getting help a great deal. I don't ask for help much at all. I try to be independent and strong enough, especially at work where I always thought I had to be. We had a most memorable conversation about leadership coming out of the canyon. She talked about struggling in races, needing help, getting towed by her teammates and her towing her male teammates as well. She stated that if you do not accept help as a leader, you could jeopardize your team moving forward. In racing, she stated, when she was towing her team member, she knew they were not doing well, but they were still moving forward! In her races, the entire team needs to cross the finish line together, which means no one is left behind and everyone may need and get help along the way without judgement. Asking for or letting others help me still needs improvement!
I wish I would have known there was going to be a Black Swan event that would have prevented me from traveling to Cork, Ireland to review their school curriculum and from attending another Buddhist Vipassana silent retreat. I am currently registered to do another 50ish mile event with Robyn through Zion National Park.