Decade-long homework assignment proves meaningful to professor, students


WILMINGTON, Ohio — It is not every day that a teacher assigns a ten-year homework assignment. However, for one professor and her 150 students at Wilmington College, it became that and so much more.

It was in 2010, when Dr. Caroline Stanley, teaching psychology for the first time at the college, noted her students were eager to learn about themselves. Only to be expected for young adults, ages 18 to 22, getting started in life. Their questions ranged from who am I? and will I change? to name a few, with the professor in a unique, prime position to help.

Dr. Stanley passed out index cards with various questions that included what are my essential traits? and what is the meaning of life?

“Essential questions,” said Dr. Stanley, ones her students took “very seriously, [and] chose their words carefully.”

At first, answering those questions was meant to be a fun project. However, at the end of the semester, the professor realized she held a snapshot of individuals in a moment in time. That while the project had provided an opportunity to connect with her students, to recall what it was like when she was a college student, there was far value to it.

The first-year professor proceeded to seal the responses in envelopes and return them to the students. The assignment was to keep the envelope until 2020 when they would renew their discussion.

Since then, Dr. Stanley has had students continue the process, writing answers to life essential questions on index cards, sealing them in an envelope with instructions to hold on to them for ten years. As the years passed, she realized the project could prove to be a scholarly opportunity as the assignment appeared to strengthen her ties with students, to be their mentor. The latter something she had as a former college student and continues to have today when it comes to career, research, and teaching advice.

Perhaps the data will help the teacher-student rapport, said Dr. Stanley, who knows and appreciates the importance of good mentors, which became the inspiration behind the decade-long project with the ongoing research to help better teach psychology, as well.

Now here it is, a decade later, and Dr. Stanley is overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from her former, first students, including Greenville native, Megan Shuret. (Stay tuned to a future Daily Advocate for more on Shuret’s participation in the decade-long project.)

To date, Dr. Stanley has had a 46 percent response rate though a few students had lost the envelopes, in one case in a flood, another in a fire. Others had to ransack a parents’ house to retrieve the envelope showcasing how much can change in ten years.

It has been meaningful, said Dr. Stanley, to reconnect with her students, to hear about their growth, and again is surprised by their enthusiasm during phone interviews. Her predictions over the years proving correct such as students would enjoy opening the envelopes, would find things they had forgotten and be happy to rediscover.

What she didn’t predict, said Dr. Stanley, was how important the process would be to them, how positive the experience to reflect on growth and accomplishments over the decade.

“A handful,” said Dr. Stanley, had “forgotten certain aspects of who they once were.” She noted a student’s response on how carefree they were ten years ago, that they lost sight of that but now have an opportunity to redevelop those aspects of their former selves.

Now a psychology professor at Bridgewater University in Massachusetts, Dr. Stanley is asking those same students, “Would you be willing to do this again today?”

“Some will have two sets of cards,” continued Stanley, and from there, a lot of comparisons to see if they have changed or remained stable in 2030.

“It feels, and I hope the data will support it,” explained Dr. Stanley, “[how] connecting with your past self will provide the opportunity to grow in the present.”

Dr. Caroline Stanley Caroline Stanley

By Bethany J. Royer-DeLong

Reach reporter Bethany J. Royer-DeLong at 937/548-3330 or email [email protected]. Read more news, features, and sports at

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