Contemplative Communities in Higher Education Grant Program


In partnership with the Fetzer Institute, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society is pleased to announce the awardees of the Contemplative Communities in Higher Education Grant Program. These grants are designed to provide seed funding to develop just, inclusive, and compassionate communities in academia: educational communities which share a commitment to the transformation of higher education and society through the use of contemplative practices and methods.

Meet the Grant Recipients | View the RFP

We are no longer accepting proposals for this grant program.
Please join our mailing list to be notified of future opportunities.


For the past 20 years, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society has been committed to working with higher education faculty, staff, administrators and students to deepen learning, stimulate creativity, and cultivate personal and social awareness through contemplative practices. We believe that reflective, contemplative approaches are a powerful complement to analysis, critique, and more conventional forms of pedagogy, as well as a powerful means of promoting connection and collaboration across many forms of difference: across the disciplines, offices and sectors of academia, and religious and spiritual beliefs, among many others.

Over our organization’s history, we have witnessed the growth, deepening, and diversification of contemplative practices and methods in higher education settings. Our Contemplative Practice Fellowship Program, which ran from 1997 through 2009, fostered the development of courses and programs (read a report on the fellowship program here). Many schools now have established centers, faculty learning groups, degree programs, and annual events devoted to the exploration of contemplative methods in teaching and learning. Descriptions of some of these efforts can be found on our website.

This new grant program is a result of our recent partnership with the Fetzer Institute to explore the assessment and evaluation of contemplative practices in higher education; the building of contemplative communities on campuses; and the role of contemplative practices in supporting students’ ability to address complex social issues and personal challenges.

Grant Recipients

Contemplative Communities Grants

CUNY/ Queensborough Community College

City University of New York (CUNY)/ Queensborough Community College

Project Co-Leads: Dr. Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson and Dr. Christina Marin

Project Title: Community College Students in Action, Reflection & Transformation (ART): Contemplative Reflections on Identity Construction Through Theatre of the Oppressed Techniques This project explores how race and ethnicity inform identity construction in college students. We will employ Theatre of the Oppressed methods and contemplative reflection practices with community college students in two different regions of the United States to open up spaces in which the participants can actively engage in social change. Through this important dialogue we will encourage participants to examine and express their own realities and intersections with race and ethnicity through arts-based qualitative methods and contemplative practices including journaling, mindfulness, and compassionate listening exchanges.

Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson, Ph.D., lead author: Assistant Professor, CUNY/Queensborough Community College. Queensborough, in the most culturally diverse county in the world, has students from over 139 different countries, speaking 87 different languages. St. John’s Humanities Review recently published Jodi’s article, “Dystopian Performance & Diasporic Pageantry: Shirley Graham DuBois’ ‘Tom-Tom.”‘

Personal story: I often employ guided meditation and yogic practice when I work creatively. Whether through acting exercises, warm ups, or incorporating yoga and intentional movement in productions, contemplative approach to performance has permeated my work. While conceptualizing a production of The Purple Flower by Marita Bonner, we used Viewpoints technique to develop the physical landscape for the cast. Each rehearsal we started with meditation and a series of 15 yoga positions beginning and ending with sun salutations. I observed both a physical and mental centeredness in this particular cast, much of which I believe was due to the contemplative positioning we obtained before and after each rehearsal. It informed the emotional connection the cast created with the space, the play and their characters, as well as to one another.

Christina Marin, Ph.D., project co-lead: Professor of Theatre/Drama Director, Central Arizona College. Central Arizona is a diverse community of students ranging from teenagers to 55 and up. Christina’s research focuses on human rights education in theatre and examines the use of Image Theatre and Forum Theatre as qualitative research methodologies.

Personal story: While I was working at NYU a colleague introduced me to the writing of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I began reading Peace is Every Step, and from there my interests grew in the practice of mindfulness and in the concept of interbeing. I began to marry the practice of mindfulness with my pedagogy in a class I was teaching called Human Rights in Theatre. It occurred to me that the initial classes I taught seemed to have difficulty getting into the complex conversations about human rights violations and then obtaining a sense of closure to process what we were studying. It was as if witnessing the human rights atrocities from such a distance was at the same time disturbing and comforting. We were concerned about our global community, and yet we could not help but be grateful for the blessings we counted each day. I began incorporating a five- to ten-minute practice of mindfulness at the beginning and end of each class session. The students were invited to unplug from technology and take up a form of mindfulness that suited each of them. Some would take the time to sit quietly, some would use colored pencils or markers to color pages from meditative coloring books, and some would take the time to stretch through various yoga poses. Regardless of what they chose, we all began to notice how much more serene we were in examining very difficult topics and engaging in controversial conversations.

University of Washington

University of Washington – Center for Child and Family Well-Being

Project Lead: Dr. Liliana J. Lengua

Project Title: A Mindfulness Program to Build a Culture of Compassion in School and Strengthen Teachers’ Resilience in Supporting Students Facing Adversity

qcte-photo-4In this project, the Center for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Washington and Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary will collaborate to create, implement, and learn from a mindfulness-based program for teachers working with students facing extreme adversity. The project aims to strengthen teachers’ self-care skills in an effort to prevent burnout, improve their well-being, and equip teachers with skills that support Native American students who have experienced trauma. Together, these efforts will foster a culture of compassion where teachers, staff, and students feel safe, supported, and interconnected.

Liliana J. Lengua, Ph.D.,, project lead: Earl Carlson and Maritz Professor of Psychology, Director of the Center for Child and Family Well-being, University of Washington, faculty in the clinical doctorate program, ranked among top U.S. clinical programs. She studies the effects of adversity on children, examining risk and protective factors that contribute to resilience or vulnerability. She investigates the effects of low income, family adversity, and parenting on neurobiological systems of self-regulation and their effects on preschool and preadolescent children’s social, emotional and academic development. She developed a parenting program that integrates mindfulness practices that support effective parenting to promote children’s well-being.

qcte-photo-2Personal story: My experiences with contemplative practices started in a World Religions and Philosophies course in high school, when I was first exposed to Buddhist philosophy, and continued in college with a Philosophy of Eastern and Western Mysticism course and my participation in a meditation group. Although my contemplative practices continued throughout my adulthood, I had not connected those practices with my research on families experiencing stress and adversity and the role that parents play in mediating or mitigating the effects of adversity on children. However, as my research progressed and I reflected on my own resilience in adversities I’ve traversed I began to understand the value of integrating mindfulness into my work. I realized the fundamental role of my own mindfulness practices, formal and informal, in sustaining my own well-being, the well-being of my family, and my effective parenting. Therefore, when I established the Center for Child and Family Well-being, focused on engaging in interdisciplinary research promoting children’s resilience in families experiencing adversity and disadvantage, it presented an opportunity to integrate mindfulness in our research to understand its possible benefits to parents and children. Through the center, we have been able to offer public lectures and professional training and courses on mindfulness and resilience. More recently, we have cultivated opportunities to collaborate with local organizations that serve communities experiencing adversity or disadvantage to implement and evaluate mindfulness-based approaches to supporting children and the adults in their lives. In this way we are continuously learning from and disseminating evidence-based contemplative practices through a variety of collaborations and outreach with the community throughout western Washington.

Community College of Baltimore County

Community College of Baltimore County

Project Lead: Stephanie Briggs

Project Title: Building Contemplative Communities With Students of Color

Practical Empowerment: Building Contemplative Communities With Students of Color is a year-long project focusing on fostering the creation and cohesiveness of a faculty/student contemplative community with six institutions: The Community College of Baltimore County, Virginia State University, Coppin State University, Howard University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of the District of Columbia. Participating faculty and staff investigate teaching and learning through compassionate contemplative practices that combine social and cultural interconnectedness; share insights with students on their home campuses; and develop student communities that engage in and assess the impact of contemplative practices on the students’ education and personal lives.

Stephanie Briggs is an assistant professor, English, at the Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland, where inclusiveness, celebrating community development, innovative teaching, and diversity of individuals and culture, ideas and viewpoints are core values. CCBC supports Stephanie’s research and assessment of embodied contemplative practices and how, when incorporated in the classroom, can have a long-term impact on student resiliency. She is also investigating how mindfulness practices can address race and gender inequities in STEM disciplines by encouraging nonreactive awareness between faculty and students. Stephanie currently facilitates CCBC’s Contemplative Communities Circle for faculty, staff, and administrators.

Stephanie Briggs is a graduate of New York University and the New School, both in New York City. As a mindfulness practitioner, she has studied the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa and the Shambhala tradition. In 1998, she began infusing meditation and movement into her work as a personal fitness trainer and later developed mindful programs and retreats for small groups, businesses, non-profits, and senior citizen programs. In 2006, she began exploring the use of movement and mindfulness in the college classroom studying movement and vocalization with director/choreographer Meredith Monk; Mudra Theater classes with Elaine Yuen, teacher and student of Chogyam Trungpa; the art of play, art, and mindfulness for people of color with Thich Nhat Hanh ordained Buddhist nun, Sister Jewel; and the research-to-performance storytelling to social engagement methodology developed by teacher/poet Sekou Sundiata. She has also completed her MBSR training with Gina Sager.

sbriggsstudentsPersonal story: As an assistant professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland, Stephanie teaches remedial reading and writing and English Composition courses, as well as the History of Hip Hop. In addition to teaching, she facilitated the college’s Contemplative Pedagogy Faculty Learning Community, designed the course, “Creating A Mindful Classroom: Setting Intentions,” for faculty members, and is currently facilitating a Contemplative Community Circle group for faculty, staff, and administrators interested in contemplative pedagogy, building community, and creating campus-wide student contemplative circle groups.

Stephanie has given a number of presentations based on her “Contemplative Compassionate Classrooms” series. Presentations include the Maryland Consortium for Adjunct Professional Development, “Be.Still.Move: Creating a Contemplative Classroom,” and Northern Kentucky University, “Creating a Compassionate Community: In the Classroom, Programming, and Professional Development.” In 2015 she served as faculty at the 11th Annual Summer Session on Contemplative Pedagogy at Smith College, “Be.Still.Move: Being Culturally Responsive.” Her interest in the impact of contemplative practice in the STEM field, where she focuses on racial and gender inequities, include workshops at the 2016 Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM conference, “Creating a New Path: Mindfulness as Community and Life Management Skill,” and at the 7th Annual STEM Women of Color Conclave. She has also led numerous workshops on mindful/embodied movement at Howard University Hospital, Smith College, and Coppin State University.

In April 2016, Stephanie was invited, along with 23 fellows, by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in partnership with the Fetzer Institute to engage in conversations towards creating a Building Communities Initiative focused on supporting and developing contemplative communities on college and university campuses. She also serves on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Diversity, Access, and Inclusion committee, is a committee member on the 8th annual Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education conference, and is on the Southeast Regional Mindfulness in Education conference committee.

Stephanie Briggs is the owner of Be.Still.Move., a program of mindful/contemplative embodied movement and arts-based learning. She continues experimenting with modes of movement and art as a form of engagement including drawing, tap dancing, and contemplative photography.

Murdoch University

Murdoch University – Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre

Project Lead: Dr. Karen Strehlow

Project Title: Developing a Culturally Appropriate, Mindfulness-Based Program for Australian Aboriginal Pre-Tertiary Students

The project seeks to develop a mindfulness-based program that is culturally appropriate for Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The funding provided by this grant will be used to increase the number of Aboriginal Elders and artists participating in the existing mindfulness program that is currently a core component of the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre’s pre-university program. It is anticipated that contemplative practices grounded within this ancient tradition will enable students to more readily accept and engage with these practices.

The Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre at Murdoch University provides access to higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through its K-Track enabling program, students are provided with a transformative learning experience that enables them to successfully undertake university studies across a range of disciplines. A core function of the Centre’s work it to provide academic, social, cultural and emotional support to Indigenous students across all levels of study – from access pathways right through to postgraduate research.

Dr. Karen Stehlow: As the Kulbardi Academic Development Coordinator, I coordinate the Centre’s academic programs and research agenda which focuses on transformative learning and education.

Personal story: While contemplative practices had been an integral part of my own life journey, it had always been a private affair that was somehow separate from my professional life. This is not to say that I would not meditate or have mindful moments throughout the day, however, it was not something that I would share with colleagues. This changed during a particularly stressful period at work, when a group of us were discussing the effects of work stress on our health and the strategies that each one of us employed to deal with it. I was surprised to learn that more than half of us were meditators or used other mindfulness/contemplative practices. We decided to start a mediation group and to open it up to the wider university community.

As is usually the case, many were excited at the beginning but as work meetings and work encroached on our time, our group dwindled. However, the core group has continued to meet twice weekly for mindfulness practices. Two years after forming our group, we discovered that many of us had incorporated mindfulness into our teaching practices and, where possible, these practices had been embedded into the curriculum. It was what we called “subversive” mindfulness in education. As mindfulness in education is becoming more acceptable in education, including tertiary education, we are slowly coming out of the closet. Many of our colleagues are interested in learning about mindfulness. At the same time, we are starting to develop research programs to assess the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices on different student cohorts. We are starting to build capacity and mindful, contemplative and compassionate systems. In the process, our community is growing as we connect with others, who are also engaged or interested in this practice.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina

campus-photoProject Lead: Ronald O. Pitner

Project Title: The I. DeQuincey Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice Annual “Call to Action”

The goals for the Annual “Call to Action” are: 1) to have a facilitated and interactive dialogue with the university and South Carolina community during the Fall semester of each year on a “specific call” related to diversity, inclusion, and social justice; 2) to have members leave the dialogue fully charged with a plan for reflection and contemplation about an appropriate action to take; 3) to provide two reflective check-in meetings with dialogue participants to discuss how they are thinking about their plan for action; and 4) to culminate during Spring semester with community members presenting their plan for action.

Ronald O. Pitner, project lead: I am an Associate Professor of the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina and the Director of the I. DeQuincey Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice. My research interests are focused on using social psychological, community, and developmental theories to examine social issues such as oppression, prejudice, poverty, and interpersonal forms of violence, as well as their various intersections. My secondary interests focus on multicultural and anti-oppressive social work practices, and the development of critical consciousness. The College of Social Work seeks to promote social justice with vulnerable populations through dynamic teaching, research, and service.

Personal Story: In 1984, Bernard Goetz, a 45 year-old White male, was riding on a subway in New York City when four Black teens approached him and asked for five dollars. Goetz, believing that he was going to be attacked, shot all four teens. Dubbed the “Subway Vigilante,” Goetz was later found guilty of possession of an illegal firearm, but was found not guilty on charges of attempted murder, assault, and reckless endangerment. This incident sparked a nationwide debate on vigilantism and perceptions of race and crime. It also provided a context for the early development of my research area. In what ways does context affect our judgments, evaluations, and responses to violence and other social problems? More importantly, how can we work to change perceptions of context in order to change behavioral outcomes? These questions have framed (and continue to frame) my research journey.

usc-classroomMy Ph.D. is in both Social Work and Psychology, which allows me to examine my research questions through an interdisciplinary lens. Specifically, my research agenda is broadly focused on using social psychological, community and developmental theories to examine social issues such as oppression, prejudice, poverty, interpersonal forms of violence, as well as the intersections of these variables. To date, the majority of my research and writings have focused on examining how contextual factors affect children and adolescents’ evaluations of interpersonal forms of violence at school. I have also used this information to further explore school violence and school safety issues. In particular, I have examined how the specific school dynamics (i.e., where violence occurs at schools, who is involved in it, what times of the day it occurs, and where the school is located) affect children’s judgments and reasoning about school violence. With this research, I have used a Freirean “bottom-up” approach to devise school violence interventions that center on students’ evaluations of school violence, and what students specifically think could be done to make their schools safer. This perspective differs from a more top-down approach, where school officials make decisions (without consultation from the students) about what types of violence interventions programs would be most effective for their schools. My research agenda has now expanded to also examine the ways that residents who live in high-crime, low-income areas can collectively work together to address neighborhood safety concerns and reclaim ownership of their own neighborhood communities.

We hope that through these modest efforts education can become a transformation process for ourselves and our students. May you be well and thrive in all your undertakings.