Meditate2When you think of meditation, what do you think of? Perhaps better focus, less stress, or calmness? For some students, it can mean better grades and a more fulfilling career.

That’s the take-home message from Dr. Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk, associate dean for the UAB Honors College and associate professor of voice for the Department of Music. She recently walked industrial distribution students through a series of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises to promote better focus and memory retention.

It’s all part of the new Creative Solutions in Distribution class, a required course for industrial distribution students within the Collat School of Business.

Led by Dr. Thomas DeCarlo, professor and endowed chair of industrial distribution, the course focuses on amplifying students’ abilities to drive growth opportunities for business through innovative methods – like meditation and mindfulness.

“ID students will go work for companies that distribute products that include the Internet of Things (e.g., multiple web-enabled “smart" functionalities). These new products require a more consultative sales process which includes creating new customer solutions. The information from this class will help students when they implement the creative process,” says DeCarlo. “For example, the information will help them become more mindful of being present to observe customer responses without injecting their own biases or thoughts to what they hear.”

DeCarlo met Hurst-Wajszczuk through on-campus networking and after learning about her background in performance anxiety management, asked her to speak during his class.

Meditate3A mindfulness practitioner of more than 10 years, Hurst-Wajszczuk is trained in Koru Mindfulness, a form of mindfulness geared towards college students and young adults. She trained under the tutelage of Holly Rogers, co-author of the Koru Mindfulness Curriculum and co-founder of the Center for Koru Mindfulness, and is an in-demand speaker for her engaging, dynamic mindfulness teachings.

As the director of opera for the UAB Department of Music, Hurst-Wajszczuk works extensively with her music students on channeling nerves and anxiety into constructive energy for shows and competitions. She leverages her background in mindfulness to teach students how to navigate their thoughts, both positive and negative, to better adjust to life’s challenges, allowing them to be better students and professionals.

For students like Sara King, better focus and calmness means a better career trajectory. “We have a lot of interviews [in the industrial distribution major],” says King, a senior industrial distribution major and president of the Society of Distribution Leaders. “Just being able to be less stressed about an interview is a great benefit.”

In a recent class, King and 16 fellow students were guided through a series of mindfulness exercises that included lying comfortably on yoga mats or sitting in a chair while focusing simply on the breath. Hurst-Wajszczuk walked them through a creative visualization exercise in which they were asked to envision their favorite place, and the associated sounds, colors, surroundings. Afterward they engaged in an eating meditation during which each student was given an orange and asked to experience every sensation, from smelling to peeling to eating, mindfully.

Some students originally felt skeptical, but some students commented to Hurst-Wajszczuk that they felt calmer, more relaxed. Even DeCarlo, who joined the students in the exercises, felt a noticeable difference.

meditate“[Mindfulness] teaches students a valuable skill in learning to deal with stress, which is considered the key reason why people get burned out in their job,” he says. “It is surprising to me that business schools typically do not provide this type of training in light of the amount of job-related stress people experience. So, this class might just help students deal with the up’s and down’s that occur in a career.”

Before Hurst-Wajszczuk begins her guided meditations, she first discusses the numerous physical and mental benefits from a regular mindfulness practice. According to the Center of Koru Mindfulness, students who practice regularly report feeling less stress, less self-judgment and increased focus and mindfulness. All of this leads to better test scores, says Hurst-Wajszczuk.

In fact, students who regularly practice mindfulness can experience a 16% increase in memory retention. When presenting the benefits to students, Hurst-Wajszczuk often relates mindfulness to test performance.

“Who wants to score a 100 up from an 84 on their next test?” she asks. Many students usually raise their hands.

King says she “thoroughly” enjoyed the class.

“It was the most unique class I’ve had so far in college,” she says. “I have found myself already using some of the techniques she taught us on how to be present in my daily life.”