Dr. Chan Hellman spoke on “The Science of Hope” during a special chapel service Monday, Oct. 25, in Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium on the OBU campus in Shawnee. He was joined on stage by OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas, who interviewed Hellman while the two discussed the science of hope.
The service was part of the University’s new Hope Rising initiative, which seeks to incorporate principles and strategies to foster greater personal hope in students and employees throughout the OBU community. To that end, OBU will be one of the first universities in the nation to implement these principles into the university’s environment, strategic plan and culture as part of the Hope Rising initiative on Bison Hill.
The University first welcomed Hellman to campus in May, when he led a special session with OBU employees themed “Day of Hope.” The event kicked off the Hope Rising initiative on campus, giving them a preview of the principles and strategies found within Hellman’s work.
Hellman is co-author of the book, “Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life.” He is a professor in the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work and founding director of the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma. He is also an adjunct professor in the department of internal medicine and Department of Pediatrics for the OU College of Medicine and the Department of Health Promotion Science for the OU College of Public Health. He is internationally renowned for his work on building a hope-centered response to trauma. With over 150 scholarly publications and countless workshops in the areas of child maltreatment, domestic violence, homelessness and more, Hellman has focused his work on studying and researching how hope increases our ability to overcome trauma and to thrive in spite of adverse experiences.
To add context to his experience with hope, Hellman began Monday’s service by outlining the experiences of his youth. He grew up in a farming community in northwest Oklahoma. From a young age, Hellman’s time with his father was primarily spent tagging along on drug deals, which was mainly a tactic used by his father to prevent violence from occurring. In the eighth grade, Hellman decided to transition into homelessness because it was safer than his home life. During that time, he would find coke bottles and exchange them for money to buy a meal, would go to school early to shower and sometimes slept on the roof of the school.
Hellman was experiencing extreme anxiety, turmoil and hopelessness to the point that he almost ended his life. Then, at a critical moment in his life, a high school coach simply said the words to him, “Chan, everything is going to be okay.” The glimmer of hope found in those encouraging words stopped him from taking his life, which ultimately led him to graduate high school, go to college, get married and eventually become the man he is today.
“What I heard in the ‘Chan, you’re going to be okay,’ is ‘you’re worthy of love,’ ‘you’re worthy of somebody’s attention and intention’ and ‘you’re worthy of a future,’” Hellman said. “I think that this is why personally, for me, faith is such an important part of my own journey with hope, because I listen to the worship songs, I listen to the teachings and what I hear is, ‘We are children of God and we are worthy of the future that’s offered to us.’”
“Hope is the belief that the future will be better than today,” Hellman said. “Embedded in that are three simple ideas…the goals that we have for the future, our ability to identify the pathways or the roadmaps that we’re going to use to pursue those goals, and then the willpower piece, which is really that motivational force that we’re going to use to navigate those pathways.”
Hellman then outlined the aspects of hope that his research has sought to answer.
“I’ve been interested in three things…what is hope and why does it matter, how does adversity rob us of hope…and how do we nurture and restore hope,” Hellman said. “That journey and this idea of hope gave me meaning and purpose.”
Hellman went on to explain why hope and the science of hope is important for the OBU campus.
“In the university setting what we’ve found very consistently…is that your hope scores are a better predictor of your performance at OBU than the ACT, SAT or high school GPA,” Hellman said.
Because of this research and its implications for the future of students, Hellman and his team have been seeking to answer the question, “How do we create a hope-centered university?”
“It starts by sharing the language of hope,” he said, “so that everybody begins to understand that hope is about goals, pathways, willpower. That it’s not a wish and more importantly that everyone has a role to play in it. So it's really about being very intentional about using the science of hope through all the processes and procedures.”
Hellman explained, though, that hope is not the end goal. It’s the means of fostering and eventually obtaining the end goal.
“Hope is not the outcome. Student wellbeing, student success. Staff wellbeing, staff success. Our ability to live life well, that’s the goal.”
Hellman concluded by explaining how faith ties into his personal experience with all the components of hope.
“My personal faith and my belief in Christ, my belief in community, are those things that help guide me in thinking about the goals that I set,” Hellman said. “And more importantly, out of all the potential pathways that are available, my faith helped me choose those pathways that are righteous, and then more importantly, serves as that source of willpower so that I can endure during those times of adversity.”
For more information on Dr. Chan Hellman, visit his website. His book, “Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life,” is available from Amazon and other major book sellers.