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Student's #SimpleNotes Project Inspires Positive Mental Health

Posted Jan. 7, 2013


"How are you going to change the world,” assistant professor J.D. Ponder, Ph.D. asked his Communication and Influence course.

Senior organizational major Caitlin Shaffer knew her final project for the course would focus on promoting positive mental health, but she didn’t know how great an impact she’d have.

Throughout the semester, Ponder charged his students to think about how they could change the world as one single person. Shaffer decided that she would focus on inspirational messages.

“I’m really big on the little things,” Shaffer said.

While developing #SimpleNotes, Shaffer considered how people would perceive the messages, what would make them take off and why they would pay attention.

In her academic research, Shaffer explored cognitive consistency, or the comparison of a person’s self-perception and reality, and how depression and anxiety can affect a student’s experience in college. From there, she investigated how social media could have an impact through the diffusion of innovation theory.

After considering several options such as posting flyers or using sidewalk chalk, Shaffer thought of writing messages on PostIt notes and tracking it with social media. She crafted short, encouraging messages on the notes and added the hashtag, #SimpleNotes, so she could track how people shared her message on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr.

Shaffer tested her project on the Kent chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, which is “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly in treatment and recovery,” according to the organization’s website. Shaffer is president of the chapter, so she hung the notes in the meeting room and bathroom before a meeting. She noticed how the members started talking and tweeting about the notes, taking pictures and sharing them with their followers and automatically adopted the hashtag on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. At the end of the meeting, Shaffer revealed her project and asked for their help in sharing messages.

Shaffer targeted students at the Kent campus by posting notes in Taylor Hall, Satterfield Hall, the Library and the Student Center. TWLOHA helped her reach the rest of campus. Less than a week after launching, the messages had been shared to other colleges in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“It’s honestly taken me by surprise,” Shaffer said. “I planned to do this by myself and make it a small project and it exploded. For me, it is a reminder that there is still hope for humanity and that there are kind people out there. Even people I didn’t know reached out and wanted to do something kind for someone else anonymously.”

Shaffer hopes to continue the project as a graduate student, with an extra nudge from Ponder. “In my experience and having Dr. Ponder as a professor, I’m grateful for how willing he was to help. He inspired me to pursue graduate school.”

Shaffer is Working with Dr. Jeffrey Child to submit her #SimpleNotes research paper to the 4th Annual Nebraska Undergraduate Communication Conference in April.