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The Magic of Awe: Transforming Our Campuses and Ourselves

Supporting the Profession AVP or "Number Two" Senior Level VP for Student Affairs
September 8, 2023 Sandra Johnson Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

Imagine that moment when your jaw drops and your heart is filled with a feeling of excitement, an experience so grand it stops you in your tracks. This sensation of "awe" is a powerful emotion that can leave you humbled and inspired. But what if this profound state of being isn't just a transient emotion? What if it could be harnessed to shape our campus communities, fostering compassion, curiosity, well-being, and a greater sense of belonging among the entire campus community?

The Power and Importance of Awe

Awe is more than a fleeting emotion. Studies suggest that regularly experiencing awe benefits our mental and physical well-being. Not only does it fill us with a sense of wonder and happiness, but it also increases our capacity for empathy, generosity, and critical thinking.

While awe can be invoked by majestic phenomena such as a breathtaking sunset or a masterpiece of art, it is more often associated with opportunities to connect with others and the environment around us. An uplifting speech, an act of kindness, or even an insightful conversation can stir up feelings of awe.

What elicits a profound sense of awe in one person may be entirely different for another. We must cherish these individual triggers, embracing diverse awe-inspiring experiences across our campuses.

Benefits of Awe

Awe is a potent antidote to stress. Regular awe experiences can reduce stress levels in the short and long term, creating an atmosphere of calm and positivity. Awe also promotes generosity and kindness, making us more willing to extend a helping hand and foster a stronger sense of belonging. Consequently, it can cultivate a more supportive and harmonious campus environment.

Moreover, awe can significantly enhance overall life satisfaction and happiness. Regular experiences of awe not only make us happier in the moment, but they can also provide a happiness boost that lingers, improving our overall well-being not only in the moment but for extended periods of time.

How can we foster a culture of awe on campus? A critical part of this process involves consciously creating space and increasing awareness for awe to emerge daily.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

In a fast-paced world, slowing down and immersing ourselves in awe-inspiring moments can seem challenging. But by consciously savoring these moments–the vibrant color of a tree in fall, the complexities of a philosophical debate, or the depth of a thought– provoking conversation with a colleague can stimulate feelings of awe.

Engage Your Senses

Fully engage your senses to amplify an awe experience. Notice the texture, scent, colors, and sound of the environment. These sensory details make us feel more connected to the world around us and intensify our awe experiences.

Unplug and Connect with Nature

Technology is integral to our lives, but taking intentional breaks is essential and needed more than ever. Find an “awe walk” on your campus and appreciate the beauty of the world of nature and let the serenity of nature surround you.

Start an "Awe" Journal

Reflecting on and documenting awe-inspiring experiences can enhance their impact. Whether it's a moment of inspiration when applying what you learned in the classroom or an encounter with a student, documenting these instances can deepen the sense of awe and even make us more inclined to engage in acts of generosity and kindness.

An Essential Ingredient for Life

We need awe more than ever. Amid the stress and digital distractions, awe serves as a refreshing pause, a tried-and-true potion to support our well-being. By reducing stress, creating a sense of belonging, and improving overall life satisfaction, awe plays a crucial role in shaping a more welcoming, compassionate, and engaging campus life. So, let's start seeking out the awe in our everyday lives and embrace the transformative power of this profound emotion.

What will you do to make today AWE-some?


Sandy Johnson headshot image

Sandra (Sandy) Johnson serves as the senior vice president for student affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology and is a member of the NASPA James E. Scott Academy Board.