Program on Empathy, Awareness, and Compassion in Education (PEACE)


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver

Courses for Penn State Students


On the final day of class, students added important concepts they learned to the chalkboard.

Art and Science of Human Flourishing

Taught by Robert RoeserElaine Berrena, Molly Countermine, and Blake Colaianne
Course number: HDFS108N

What is the purpose of your life? What is the purpose of your education?  What does it mean to not just survive, but to thrive, or flourish? How can your undergraduate years become a greenhouse for flourishing for you – where you gain insight and knowledge, but also learn to be even more creative, caring, resilient, engaged, happy, and part of a community to which you make significant contributions?  Are there practices by which you can cultivate what it takes to live a flourishing life?

This course aims to assist you in finding the answers to these questions for yourself, building a sustainable base for flourishing during your undergraduate years and beyond. You will explore scientific, philosophical, and artistic ideas about flourishing, while experimenting with contemplative practices that work directly with your mind, body, emotions, and relationships. Together, after exploring the foundations of flourishing, we will investigate the cultivation of flourishing according to a model with five dimensions (foundations, awareness, connection, wisdom and integration.)

Step inside Rob Roeser's classroom by reading this Penn Stater magazine article.

Video: Briana Blackwell describes the Art and Science of Human Flourishing  

Article: A student perspective on the Art and Science of Human Flourishing

Art and Science of Care and Compassion

Taught by Robert Roeser and Elaine Berrena
Course number: HDFS297x

In this course, we will explore both the art of caring for others, as well as the science on the impact of care and compassion on health, wellbeing, and social relationships. We will explore the nature of human nature -– is care in our nature?  We will discuss how human qualities like kindness, courage, compassion and forgiveness are educable -- they can be strengthened through practice. We will also discuss how these qualities are particularly important for care-givers -– those who take care of many others –- and how these qualities can prevent empathy fatigue and burnout. Finally, given the times we live in, time in which the world is broken and divided, we see the art and practice of care and compassion as more important than ever before.

Art and Science of Successful Aging

Taught by Martin Sliwinski, Elisha Clark Halpin and Robert Roeser
Course number: HHD & AA 197

This course offers students the opportunity to investigate the processes of healthy aging and maturation from a transdisciplinary perspective that draws upon developmental and biomedical science, contemplative (e.g., mindfulness & compassion practice), art and embodiment practices, and their own experience. Topics will focus on understanding common experiences and challenges that people face in the context of psychological, behavioral, social, and biological changes that they experience during adulthood. Course activities include small group discussions and structured exercises that reinforce concepts introduced in lectures and assigned readings. Students will develop conceptual knowledge, experiential insight, and practical skills for navigating adulthood, building meaningful intergenerational relationships, and cultivating an awareness of shared humanity and inclusivity across generations.

Mindfulness in Human Development

Taught by Blake Colaianne
Course number: HDFS 497x

Mindfulness has become a pillar of many programs and practices within human development and education. In this course, we will (1) explore the research on why and how mindfulness can support healthy development across the lifespan and (2) critically examine how prevention and intervention programs aim to cultivate these skills. Students will also experience a variety of meditations throughout the course as we discuss how to integrate these practices into our personal and professional lives.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

Taught by Deborah Schussler
Course number: EDLDR597

This course will enable students to understand and develop the skills needed to foster emotionally intelligent leadership. Students will explore the theoretical frameworks of emotional intelligence, social-emotional learning, and leadership styles. The course adopts an empirical and experiential approach whereby students will both analyze extant research and reflect on what they do as leaders in their own contexts. The course draws from fields of study including psychology, social psychology, education, organizational leadership, and contemplative science.

Book cover for Be Here Now

Cover art for Be Here Now, by Ram Dass

Be Here Now: Ram Dass and Flourishing

Taught by Robert RoeserRichard Doyle, and Elaine Berrena
Course number: HDFS297x

In this 5-week, 1-credit course, named after Ram Dass’ (1971) classic contemplative text “Be Here Now”, we will explore the teachings of this American psychologist and spiritual teacher on human flourishing. The course will introduce students to the remarkable life of Ram Dass (aka Professor Richard Alpert), as well as key insights he offered on living a life of flourishing.  The teachings of Ram Dass on flourishing will be discussed in relation to the themes of awareness, interconnection, insight into self, and service. The course will include both experiential (e.g., meditation practices, dialogues) and academic (e.g., readings, lectures, videos) forms of learning.


Taught by Jennifer Frank
Course number: SPLED297

The goal of this course is to provide current and future educators and related service providers with an overview of research on mindfulness-based practices and applied examples of how to integrate these practices into educational settings. We will examine how mindfulness and related secular contemplative (non-religious) strategies can be used to reduce stress, maintain focus, improve sleep, and maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle. We will also explore how educators can use mindfulness to enhance their own professional and personal well-being.

Creativity and the Arts in Human Flourishing (coming in 2022!)

Taught by Molly Countermine
Course number: HDFS111

This course will explore the roles of aesthetic experience, the arts, and creativity in personal and collective flourishing, and offer experiential learning opportunities for students to develop their aesthetic awareness and creative capacity through observing, participating in, and reflecting on various kinds of artistic performances, art installations, and art-making activities, and exploring the role that aesthetic experience plays in their identity development and flourishing. This course was made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Arrival Practices for Students

"Let's take one more deep breath. In with peace and out with stress."

woman meditating with eyes closed in front of laptop

Arrival practices are designed to settle the body and mind and can be a great start to any class or meeting.

Associate Teaching Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Molly Countermine has a teaching style that embodies empathy, compassion and awareness. She sums up her approach as "Grace before grades, relationships before rigor" and believes deeply that students learn best from people they trust.

Dr. Countermine begins each class with an arrival practice, a 2-minute meditation that allows everyone to take a break out of their busy schedules and re-focus. She may read a poem, a passage from a book, or a use a guided meditation practice

Her classes can have more than 600 students, and the arrival practices build a feeling of shared community and connection — even over Zoom. She starts each semester by telling students that they are welcome to let her know of any issues they are experiencing outside of class that may be affecting their participation in class. She says, "we all know that prevention is the best intervention."

Silhouetted image of workshop participants

Caption: In May 2019, teachers from several Penn State campuses convened at the Summer Teaching Institute to learn more about teaching "The Art and Science of Human Flourishing" to their students. The course is part of the Student Flourishing Initiative, a multi-university collaboration that is led by Robert Roeser in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin-Madison.