Saint Louis University’s leadership and psychology department anticipate new opportunities to advance research concerning basic human motivation, or the “innate human drive to find meaning, purpose and explanation of life,” according to a press release.
How? By making use of a recent $1 million donation from Robert Wheeler Sr., a SLU alumnus and former faculty member, to Accelerating Excellence: The Campaign for Saint Louis University.
Wheeler’s gift created the Wheeler Endowed OntosScience Research Fund that will financially support copious psychology research efforts at the university. Findings could be applied to all areas of life and improve people’s mental and physical health, relationships and overall well-being.
“I think that the psychology department at SLU has great potential for pursuing this line of research and really helping humanity,” Wheeler says in the release. “I have become convinced that the secret to further advancement of humanity is for people to get back to their basic motivation, the basic thing that we are driven by.”
There are various ways to study human motivation or topics in the area of “positive psychology,” such as optimism, compassion and resilience, says Edward Sabin, an associate professor at SLU with a doctorate in psychology. The idea is to better understand the underlying factors that contribute to an individual’s sense of purpose.
“Case studies, interviews and the analysis of critical incidents related to meaning could provide narrative insight,” Sabin says. “Studies can assess how meaning develops over the course of a lifetime. Research can investigate the relationship between individual differences in meaning and its relation to demographic characteristics, occupations and different cultures. Interventions designed to increase meaning could be evaluated for effectiveness in areas such as counseling and coaching.”
The endowment is expected to support two graduate assistantships each year starting next August. Sabin says this will allow graduate students to “develop a line of research that may result in their thesis or dissertation, and may also result in a lifelong area that they continue to research.”
Wheeler became particularly interested in people’s perspectives on the meaning of life while serving in the military for 20 years, according to the press release. He then studied psychology at SLU, where he earned his doctorate and went on to have a 20-year career with the university. Wheeler held numerous positions and researched personality characteristics that contribute to health, well-being and performance.
Sheila Manion, vice president for development at SLU, says in the release that Wheeler’s “generosity helps solidify the university’s position as a leader in higher education and creates opportunities for our students for many years to come.”
Saint Louis University, 1 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 1-800-758-3678, slu.edu
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