Relevant Resilience: Engineering professor on the dangers of a fixed mindset

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Amy Betz, associate professor in mechanical engineering, leads a workshop on how one's mindset can fulfill, or limit a student. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

On Tuesday evening, Amy Betz, associate professor in mechanical engineering and assistant dean for retention, diversity and inclusion in the College of Engineering, presented “What’s Your Mindset?” as the third iteration of Lafene’s Relevant Resilience workshop series.

Betz shared ideas from the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck, as well as her experience working with engineering students. She focused on the idea of fixed and growth mindsets.

“It’s really important to understand that it’s not something of, you’re fixed and this is some inherent trait about you and you’re somehow broken,” Betz said.

At the end of the day, Betz said, we all really have a little bit of both.

“Maybe fixed mindset when it comes to something like math, but growth mindset with something like sports or art,” she said.

Betz discussed the dangers of a fixed mindset, including what comes with the fear of being wrong.

“If you’re wrong, it might mean that you’re ‘Not smart,’ and that maybe you’re not as smart as you thought you were,” she said.

This mindset causes people to label themselves by their grades and test scores, she said.

“The number of students we had reflecting on their ACT score was also very devastating, it made me change my views about the ACT,” Betz said. “They would refer to themselves as an ACT score: ‘Well, I’m a 23.'”

Nissi Costello, senior in biology, said she can fall prey to the fixed mindset, especially in a more competitive science field.

“It’s easy to get caught up in what your grade is and whether that reflects on who you are as a person,” Costello said.

Betz also said many students tie self-worth to academic failure, and experience persistent feelings of worthlessness when they don’t do well. One way out, she said, is having a sense of direction and growth.

“Having a path and having a place for directed effort can really help us out,” Betz said. “Having multiple things going forward. Not necessarily setting your expectations low or setting yourself up for failure, but just having that ability to reactivate your brain.”

Students who perceive themselves as “smart” will have trouble accepting their failures, Betz said as she encouraged the attendees to really be mindful about how they judge themselves and others.

She said to try to not tell anyone they are smart for a week, but rather telling people stuff like that they have a good idea, so the label doesn’t sink into them.

“I try to be more mindful about that, I feel like I’m not only helping to sort of stop this perpetuation of this idea and actually getting more useful feedback, and more directive feedback about what it is they think,” Betz said.

While there is a point where goals can be delusional, Betz said, setting high goals over time is great way to see improvement.

“The greater you think you can improve over time, the more you’ll direct your effort towards your goals, and the better you will do,” she said.

Costello said she found the presentation helpful, as she is graduating in May.

“Getting to explore a little bit about can help you achieve the success you’re so anxious for was, I think, a good component to add into senior season,” she said.

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.