Empathy and the K-12 Environment

Students in Courtney Putnam’s integrated learning course that links English 101 and College 101 participated in small group “empathy projects,” which involved both primary and secondary research at Cascadia. Here, students in the “Empathy in the K-12 Environment” group present and interpret their research findings.

By Cascadia students McKenna Secrist, RJ Roy, William Hager, and Jack Iudice

Do you remember that one kid in school? You know, the one that consistently found themselves on the short of end of rumors and raided lockers. Maybe when they brought up concerns with respective authorities, they were told to ignore the problem. Maybe they were even punished. There was this other kid too; the one that could tip beakers in science class and yell obscenities in the hall and only receive a passing glance. It only follows that the victim might stop and wonder what place empathy could in a world where the abusers are at the top of the food-chain, and tight networks of fear are allowed to thrive within a system that facilitates their growth. Should things be left as they are? If not, what role should authority–namely, teachers–play in effecting change?

The society we live in today cries out in a never-ending search for a more loving and more accepting humankind. People fight for change in the hearts of political leaders and rally to make heard their need for more empathy in the world. Too much of the coverage surrounding these patterns in social revolution focuses on the adults who play roles in the communities and not enough on where their values and views were fed for so long. When we turn our attention to what and how children are being taught for the first eighteen years of their lives we can establish an understanding of what children stand to learn about growing into kinder, more loving, and more empathetic adults.


The scope of our research was based on empathy as it pertains to the developing brain. The skill we looked for was the ability to recognize other people as separate entities, capable of feeling a full spectrum of emotion. To empathize with another is to recognize and relate to how another person feels with one’s own experiences. To take it further, empathy is about forming bonds through this understanding.


By exploring empathy and what role it plays in learning processes within the K-12 environment, we overviewed several studies. In the article “Empathy in Education: Engagement, Values and Achievement,” Ann Rose relates empathy to the Hawaiian word kuleana, which she defines as a person’s personal sense of responsibility and their willingness to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Based on 701 reports of hateful incidents of harassment, she makes the claim that aggressive behaviors are on the rise within the educational environment.

In School Psychology Review, Rodkin, Philip C., and Ernest V.E. Hodges describe the development of aggressive social behaviors, as well as how this influences children and their group dynamics. Studies conducted revealed that school demographics routinely view students who are aggressive and not well liked as popular. Conversely, many who were well liked possessed less influence over others. However, while bullies build extensive networks that incorporate both aggressive and passive students, aggression isn’t the only glue that can hold people together. More optimistically, there is a negative correlation between how many friends a person has, even if they’re non-aggressive, and how much they are bullied.

Finally, Batanova, M., & Loukas, A. provided a survey of 481 people between the ages 10-14 in “Unique and Interactive Effects of Empathy, Family, and School Factors on Early Adolescents’ Aggression”. This study revealed that children with a supportive family, as well as those with strong school relationships, exhibited less aggression, suggesting the potential root of the problem.


Based on our research, it is not unreasonable to assume that teachers don’t take enough preventative measures to stop bullying. Nor does the educational system place emphasis on the development of empathy in students.


As part of our data gathering process, we wandered the halls of Cascadia College, passing out 35 surveys to be filled out by students. The surveys contained 21 statements relating to the importance and presence of empathy within school environments. How true a student felt the statement was could be rated on a scale from 1-5. 1 representing the opinion of “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree.” Spaces were provided to record information regarding gender, educational background, age, and year of graduation.


We did a survey comprising of about 30 students at Cascadia, and over half of the students’ studies said that they had teachers that taught empathy in their K-12 experience. Interestingly, about half the students were bullied in in their K-12 experience as well. This shows that empathy taught in school affected the amount of bullying because the students became empathetic. Almost everyone in the survey agreed that empathy should be taught in school, whether they were bullied or not. This is saying that they believe empathy should be taught from a young age, instead of being learned later in life. Instead of this being the case, almost everyone said that they think that students are more empathetic in college then in the K-12 environment. Even though most people’s teachers taught kindness and empathy, a lot of bullying still happened; Ten people in our survey said that bullying was present in their K-12 years. Our studies conclude that most people believe that empathy is developed throughout life, but it is better to learn at an earlier age to decrease the amount of bullying and increase the amount of kindness in the classroom.


Within the book, Empathy in Education: Engagement, Values and Achievement, Ann expresses that her vision is to teach students social-emotional skills, along with teaching kids normal academic skills. She explains her desire for students to offer greater guidance to students, so that they better their skills as critical thinkers and problem solvers. Meanwhile, the “School Psychology Review” proposes that forming bonds of close understanding with others has a ripple effect that can positively influences the environment of entire classrooms. In contradiction to our sampling of data, it claims that teachers often fail to act against bullies, or even side with the perpetrators. The consensus is that it is imperative for teachers to remain attuned to the environment, prove beneficial for teachers to provide anonymous surveys to map the power dynamics within their own classroom, as well as encourage and monitor greater socialization between students.


Batanova, M., & Loukas, A. (2014). “Unique and Interactive Effects of Empathy, Family, and School Factors on Early Adolescents’ Aggression.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(11), 1890-1902.

Cooper, Bridget. Empathy in Education : Engagement, Values and Achievement. London ; New York, NY: Continuum, 2011. Web.

Rodkin, Philip C., and Ernest V.E. Hodges. School Psychology Review. N.p., 2003. Web.15 Feb. 2017.

Empathy and Social Justice: Immigration

Students in Courtney Putnam’s integrated learning course that links English 101 and College 101 participated in small group “empathy projects,” which involved both primary and secondary research at Cascadia. Here, students in the “Empathy & Social Justice Causes” group present and interpret their research findings.

by Nataly Ferman, Dugan Flanders, Carson Pierce, & Zoe Starck

Why is this issue important?

In our current political environment, the issue of immigration reform is a hot topic. It’s an issue that rises to the forefront in every presidential election with both ends of the political spectrum taking strong stances in regards to the solution for immigration reform. Our current administration has presented some controversial proposals and most people already fall on the spectrum of either agreeing or disagreeing. Whether or not you agree with the proposed plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, the negative views ascribed to immigrants deserve some study as to their effects on society as a whole.

What did we look at?

Our group was curious how students here at UW Bothell and Cascadia responded to the issue of immigration and assessed how empathetic they were towards the struggle of immigrants. Our hypothesis: The less empathy students display, the less likely they are to feel positively or show support towards immigration. We collected a total of 30 surveys from our fellow classmates asking them to self assess their level of empathy toward immigrants on a scale of 1 to 10. Following this self-assessment, we asked a series of questions relating to immigration that allowed us to assess their level of empathy on the issue. Each question prompted a yes or no answer to which we tallied as 1’s and 0’s. Breaking down our questionnaire, the yes and no answers didn’t necessarily translate into empathy yeses and lack of empathy no’s, so we needed to look at the answers individually in order to accurately score for empathy.

Question Yes response score No response score
Do you believe everyone, despite country of origin has a human born right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? 1 0
Do foreign nationals deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in life as someone born in the US or should it extend to all human beings regardless of ethnicity and country of origin? 1 0
Does the “American Dream” as you understand it, pertain to US citizens born in the US or should it extend to all human beings regardless of ethnicity and country of origin? 0 1
Should undocumented immigrants be granted the opportunity for permanent citizenship in the United States? 1 0
Should US born children of undocumented immigrants be forced back if their parents were to be deported? 0 1
You’re a college student applying for an entry-level position at a grocery store. The only other person that applied migrated illegally from Mexico. Do you think as a US citizen, that you should automatically be hired over the foreign citizen because of their immigration status? 0 1
The year is 1892 and your family is barely able to survive. There’s a famine and you’re unable to feed your spouse and three children. You know there’s a land of freedom and opportunity and all you need to do is survive the passage across the ocean and to the America’s. Would you relocate your family in search of opportunity and a better life? 1 0
Should America build a wall along the US-Mexican Border? 0 1
If you were a business owner in the United States, would you hire an undocumented immigrant if you could pay them $8 an hour over a US citizen that wanted $15 an hour for the same amount of work? 1 0

What did we find?

We found that overall everyone answered yes to our first question: “Do you believe everyone, despite country of origin has a human born right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” This shows that on some level they believe the inalienable rights established by the US Constitution does apply to all people regardless of their country of origin. The second question, however, asks the very same question with different wording when dissected: “Do foreign nationals deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in life as someone born in the US or should it extend to all human beings regardless of ethnicity and country of origin?” Not everyone answered this question unanimously as they did the first. The third question was similar to the first two only the answer was reversed. A “no” response denoted empathy rather than the “yes” for the first two. The wording was confusing on this one, but the answers to this gave us a further understanding of how people view immigration. On the surface people want to be empathetic towards immigrants, but as it becomes closer and closer to their reality of being an American, we see a divide between people wanting to empathize with immigrants and their struggle and people wanting to be seen as something special for simply being born here in the United States.

What limitations did we have?

One limitation we ran into was the lack of trial and error when posing a public opinion survey. It would have been beneficial to our study to see what worked in the initial survey and follow up with revisions to our questioning and then re-administer the revised survey. Many trials and errors go into a polling process and being limited to one single trial limited the quality of our results. Had we been able to see what worked well for our tangent groups and their surveys as well as what didn’t work in our own, we could have reviewed and redistributed our questionnaire to gather the data pertinent to our study.

The quantitative data retrieved from our survey limited the ability to apply statistical measurements to further analyze our findings. In data processing, we realized we needed to apply 1’s and 0’s to our yes or no questioning in order to get an accurate numerical picture of the data we collected. If research were to continue we would assign a 1 to 5 numerical value to better assess people’s opinions in place of the yes or no answers.

How does empathy impact the ultimate issue of immigration?

Empathy is the ultimate solution to immigration policies that face the United States. Understanding where others come from and taking the time to learn to view the struggles through another person’s point of view is what’s needed in order to bring about change in our society as a whole. People tend to get wrapped up in our own personal definition of the “American Dream” that we might forget or ignore what others are going through to become American citizens themselves. It’s easy to put these issues out of sight and out of mind if our grandparents came in search of freedom and opportunity many generations before us. Lack of understanding will only blind us to the struggles of others and without having any empathy towards our fellow brothers and sisters we shall remain caught up in this fiercely debated area of social justice.


Newman, Benjamin J, Todd K Hartman, Patrick L Lown, and Stanley Feldman. “Easing the Heavy Hand: Humanitarian Concern, Empathy, and Opinion on Immigration.” British Journal of Political Science. 45.3 (2015): 583-607.

Empathy and Interpersonal Relationships 

Students in Courtney Putnam’s integrated learning course that links English 101 and College 101 participated in small group “empathy projects,” which involved both primary and secondary research at Cascadia. Here, students in the “Empathy in Interpersonal Relationships” group present and interpret their research findings.

By Cascadia students Nick Bray, Gracie Gasca, Michelle Johnson, Chandler Pelk, & Jake Strieb

From our encounters with strangers to our closest bonds, empathy is intertwined in many aspects of our daily lives. A lack of empathy is a dangerous deficiency in any relationship, whether it be romantic or platonic, and it is a crucial quality for mending any conflict which may come up. Looking at how empathy makes up the interpersonal relationships of the people here at Cascadia, we conducted several interviews with different students, staff, and faculty members.

Empathy Defined in Interpersonal Terms

In their article, “Empathy in Intimate Relationships: The Role of Positive Illusions,” Dijikstra et al define empathy as “…an emotional response of compassion and concern caused by witnessing someone else in need…Empathy also plays an essential role in the development and maintenance of pair bonds…the main reasons for this is that empathy forms a key aspect of emotional support, a strong correlate of relationship satisfaction…” (Dijikstra, et al 477).

Literature Review

We then found a few different studies that helped us create the hypothesis and interview questions. The studies that we have chosen found that empathy is a key factor in any successful relationship, whether it is a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a familial relationship. Through every relationship there is conflict at some point. Individuals with higher levels of empathy have been shown to be able to resolve the conflict in their relationships more successfully than others. In romantic relationships, this often led the men to avoiding discussion of the conflicting issue until absolutely necessary. In conflict, Susan Whitbourne describes the three pathways to “empathic understanding” (Whitebourne) These are the “Bias” pathway, which involves you assuming that the way you feel is how your partner feels, the “Truth” pathway, which involves you digging deep into the clues your partner provides to truly understand how they are feeling, and the “Conflict” pathway, which involves a better understanding of your partner’s feelings through the conflict itself. Conflict seems almost necessary to close interpersonal relationships, as the “Conflict” pathway results in the deepest emphatic reactions in people. (Whitbourne). An interesting result from our research is when Lam speaks about the development of empathy, after many research attempts, they were unable to find a clear factor in the development of empathy in children. Some children showed marked growth in empathy during puberty stages, some showed none, and some even showed a drop in empathy (1658).                                                   


Looking at the information these studies have brought us helped us decide on a hypothesis: The greater the level of empathy in our interpersonal relationships, the more effective and strong the relationship will be and the more constructive the conflict in our relationships will be.

Research Methods

After we decided on a hypothesis regarding empathy in interpersonal relationships, we decided to conduct six interviews containing six different questions pertaining to empathy and interpersonal relationships. For the interviewees, we had one student, two administrators, two faculty, and one staff. We conducted all of the interviews over email towards the end of February 2017.


To begin our research, we asked each of our interviewees how they defined empathy. This allowed us to be sure they came to the interview with the correct understanding of the concept. All six participants accurately defined empathy. Two out of the six interviewees directly explained how empathy differs from sympathy, one stating that empathy is a “step beyond sympathy.” Next we asked them to state some of the positive and negative impacts that empathy has on their interpersonal relationships. Both the student and faculty member mentioned growth (both as an individual and relationally) to be a positive result of empathy. Half of the participants expressed that having empathy in their interpersonal relationships leads to efficient conflict resolution and less instances of conflict altogether. One faculty member believed, “It is harder to fight when you understand or experience what the other person is feeling.” Two out of the six also explained how good communication is a positive result of having empathy. When asked how empathy could have a negative impact on their interpersonal relationship, all participants seemed to have an understanding that any negative impact can also be seen in a positive light because it shows growth in that particular relationship. Empathizing when it is not reciprocated was also seen as a challenge from two of the participants.

To understand how our participants came to understand empathy, we asked each of them to explain how they were taught this concept growing up or if it was displayed for them. All six participants could not declare that empathy was explicitly taught or even defined. Three out of the six remembered their mother’s being the main model or teacher of empathy for them. The phrases like “there are two sides to every story” and “the world does not revolve around you” were given. The other half of the participants shared that it was mainly modeled by love in their family and empathy was a natural result of this love. One faculty member also shared that her experiences involving music, art, and going to museums growing up might have had an impact on her “willingness, often eagerness, to see things from a view other than [her] own.”

When asked how their empathy differs from their familial to personal relationships all members saw the correlation between greater levels of empathy with people they are closer with. Three out of six participants believed they have greater levels of empathy when interacting with their family versus with their friends. One administrator explained that she came from a family that lacked in their communication skills, which led her to better empathize with her friends. She also tends to make assumptions about her family members because she knows them so well but these assumptions often prove to be inaccurate. The remaining two participants believe the type of interpersonal relationship has no impact on their level of empathy. To one staff member, “Empathy is empathy.”

Half of the interviewees claim to be consciously aware of empathy on a daily basis. The student who was interviewed professed that she is always aware of her empathy because of the conflict she has experienced in the past. One faculty member considers herself to be consciously aware of empathy but this ability came with age and is something she is continually working on. The other two out of six explained how they make attempts to be a “supportive listener” and try to be aware of their actions but are not conscious empathizers.

Interpretation and Next Steps

Based on the sampling we did on the six members of the Cascadia community, our hypothesis that interpersonal relationships that actively practice empathy tend to be stronger and have constructive conflict was proven. Each of participants seemed to have a solid understanding of what empathy is and the benefit of enhanced communication and smoother conflict resolution it brings when put into practice in their interpersonal relationships. Although it is important to note that none of the participants can remember being exclusively taught empathy growing up, which could of had a weakening effect on their full understanding of it today. The interviewees all agreed that empathy comes more easily with those you have close interactions with. One response given suggested that when this person experienced past conflict in a relationship they were readily able to empathize when conflict arose again which links back to some of the findings in our research, that people who had previously been in conflict exhibited higher levels of empathy for the people they had been in conflict with. Additionally, only fifty percent of the participants can confidently profess that they are consciously aware of their levels of empathy in regards to their interpersonal relationships on a day-to-day basis. With these findings, we can assume that our community is on an upward path to becoming active empathizers but more awareness needs to be made on how to properly empathize with people we may not be in constant communication with.

The Cascadia community understands how important empathy is and the value it brings to interpersonal relationships in solving and even sometimes avoiding conflict. However, more practice needs to be implemented into their daily lives. The majority of the participants interviewed could easily remember a time in their past when they made assumptions about one’s feelings that matched their which created conflict in the relationship. As Susan Whitbourne pointed out, this is the biased pathway and is not an indicator of empathy (Whitbourne). We think it is important to actively think about empathy when interacting with those closest to you. When both members of the relationship not only continually assess the other person’s feelings and experiences but also go the extra step to consider how it would make them feel: conflict will be avoided or diffused. The tool you can use to practice or deepen your level of empathy in your interpersonal relationships is to never assume that the other person’s feelings and experiences match your own (Whitbourne).

In the future, more research needs to be to explore the role of sibling relationships and overall family dynamic in relation to empathy. As our secondary research suggested, siblings closer in age tend to have higher levels of empathy than only children or siblings further apart in age (Lam et. al). Unfortunately our limited research format did not allow for us to completely dissect this aspect of interpersonal empathy but it would be interesting to see how this truth could impact future romantic relationships.


Dijkstra, Pieternel, Dick P.H. Barelds, Hinke A.K. Groothof, and Marnix Van Bruggen. “Empathy in Intimate Relationships: The Role of Positive Illusions.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 55.5 (2014): 477-82. Web.

Lam, Chun Bun, Solmeyer, Anna R., and McHale, Susan M. “Sibling Relationships and Empathy across the Transition to Adolescence.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 41.12 (2012): 1657-670. Web.

Pinkus, Rebecca T., Penelope Lockwood, Tara C. Marshall, and Hyea Min Yoon. “Responses to Comparisons in Romantic Relationships: Empathy, Shared Fate, and Contrast.” Personal Relationships 19.1 (2012): 182-201. Web.

Sened, Haran, Iftah Yovel, Eran Bar-Kalifa, Reuma Gadassi, and Eshkol Rafaeli. “Now You Have My Attention: Empathic Accuracy Pathways in Couples and the Role of Conflict.” Emotion (2016): Emotion, 2016. Web.

Whitbourne, Susan Krauss, Ph.D. “The 3 Pathways to Empathy in Close Relationships.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 7 Feb 2017. Web. 22 Feb 2017.


Improving Workplace Relations Can Lead to More Productivity

Students in Courtney Putnam’s integrated learning course that links English 101 and College 101 participated in small group “empathy projects,” which involved both primary and secondary research at Cascadia. Here, students in the “Empathy in Workplace Settings” group present and interpret their research findings.

By Cascadia students Ruslan Bagdasaryan, Kristian Bottger, Cameron Nagel, & Sean Zhao

Did you ever notice your coworkers avoiding contact? Perhaps they even fought? This poor show of empathy between workers may not only harm the employees, but the entire company’s workflow overall.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Though it may not seem it, there are several studies showing how empathy within a work environment between co-workers and those in leadership positions can lead to an increase in employee happiness and productivity (Whiteside).



According to a study called “The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence and Empathy to Entrepreneurship” by Ronald Humphry, entrepreneurs that scored high “on emotional intelligence/ competencies” tests would be “more emotionally resilient when facing obstacles, be more successful at handling intense emotions when working with family members, they will work more effectively with their employees, customers and other stakeholders and they will be rated higher on leadership by their employees… will be more successful at motivating and leading their employees, and helping their employees cope with workplace stressors” (Humphry).


We decided to see if this study was true by asking individuals at Cascadia to share their stories about empathy or lack thereof and if it had helped them overcome any problems. We hypothesized that if we asked our fellow Cascadians about their experiences in the workplace we would be able to deduce that empathy in the workplace can lead to better interpersonal connections between employees as well as increase productivity.


We had a total of 19 people between the ages of 25 to 74 take our survey all of whom work or study at Cascadia College. We asked these people via online survey to answer 6 questions pertaining to empathy with their jobs and how it impacts them and those they interact with. The questions go as followed:

  • Please describe a conflict that you had at work? And how was it resolved?
  • What role did empathy play in the resolution of your conflict?
  • Please describe the role of empathy in your workplace? This could include interaction with colleagues, management, students, etc.
  • How does empathy affect your relationship with your colleagues?
  • Do you feel that empathy is important in a workplace setting for the overall success of an organization? Please explain why or why not.
  • What does empathy mean to you? And how can it affect you in your workplace?


There were many stories that featured conflicts, grudges, and resolutions, and though not everyone was able to see eye to eye, everyone who took the survey answered that empathy was in some way an important factor for maintaining a better workplace environment. One of the most interesting topics to come out of the survey was that there were several individuals who debated empathy’s meaning and that even though empathy is important, it can also go too far and become overbearing. To directly quote an answer by one participant, “It helps people to feel respected and understood. It can also be a hindrance. Sometimes fairness requires impartiality and following procedure and this requires steeling oneself to make hard decisions. It’s hard for me to make these kinds of decisions when I feel strongly the hurt or disappointment of others. Conversely, feeling the joy of others can also lead to unfair decisions. Finally, empathy seems useless when one has to decide (fairly) between two people.” Several other participants also made similar remarks about empathy and fairness. Based on these remarks we’ve concluded that empathy is an important tool but not a silver bullet that’s capable of resolving all workplace problems.


We compared our results to those of the previously mentioned study and found interesting correlations. In regards to emotional workings of family members, we were unable to find any participants comparing family or family values with empathy. In our study, we found that there were many similarities between our survey and the study’s results of better effectiveness, motivation, leadership, and stress coping abilities for those who empathize with others in the workplace. Where our survey differs from the study is that several of our participants had stated that though empathy was important, fairness between employees and customers was more imperative than empathy. To test our results we recommend implementing empathy workshops to see if there’s a measurable change in employee productivity. Using these results, this information could be useful information for many companies and places of business. Particularly, these findings can be given to human resources departments to help understand empathy and fairness in the workplace.


Cohen, Taya R; Panter, At; Turan, Nazly; Morse, Lily; Kim, Yeonjeong. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov 2014, Vol.107(5), p.943

Humphrey, Ronald H. “The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence and Empathy to             Entrepreneurship” A New Business Model: The Emotional Dimension of                         Organizations. Entrepreneurship Research Journal, 3.3 (2013): 287-294.

Whiteside, David, and Laurie Barclay. “The Face of Fairness: Self-Awareness as a               Means to Promote Fairness among Managers with Low Empathy.” Journal of                         Business Ethics 137.4 (2016): 721-30. Print.

Empathy in College Students

Students in Courtney Putnam’s integrated learning course that links English 101 and College 101 participated in small group “empathy projects,” which involved both primary and secondary research at Cascadia. Here, students in the “Empathy in Higher Education Settings” group present and interpret their research findings.

by Cascadia students Izaya Li, Nick Marquette, Jake Miller, and Maddy Walker

Stress is a core component of every college student’s life. Between the self-medicated, caffeine-filled cappuccinos and populated 24-hour cafes, a college student essentially lives on a roller coaster of emotions. Although some required classes, like College 101, teach students a basic level of reflection techniques, few students actually stop and think how their surrounding emotional and physical environment affects the way they are able to perceive and appreciate others. In this article, we hope to enlighten you to the effect that stress places on your ability to empathize with those around you. Although this article fails to provide the reader with caffeine, the information following this will hopefully expose and provoke more active thinking among participants in higher education.

Empathy in Terms of Higher Education:

Empathy is the ability to suffer through another’s experience vicariously. That is the broad, encompassing definition of empathy. However empathy may take on different forms, depending, of course, on the environment in which it is demonstrated. Empathy in a higher educational environment is tricky. Weird word choice, but you’ll understand what we mean. Higher education is the first example in life where professors have the same, adult –to-adult relationship with the students. For the entirety of an 18-20 year-old’s life, they have been through the k-12 school system, always being treated as a child. It is easy for one child to empathize with another, just the same as it is for two adults to empathize with each other. However, students in higher education still have the mindset that others perceive them as children. Being seen as an adult is no small matter, so it is difficult to describe the seemingly instant transformation from a high school student to a member of an adult education community. This is what makes empathy in college environment ‘tricky,’ as so elegantly put previously.

College brings together adults from completely different walks of life, differing in job type, ranking, ethnic background, sexual orientation, political opinion, and yes, even what colors the dress is. In such a diverse environment, it becomes difficult to empathize in a strange place, with strange people, over strange emotions, ideas, and situations.


Our hypothesis is if an individual is undergoing stress, then they will have a tendency to exhibit lower levels of empathy because the stress will damage the subjective well being of said individual, resulting in a distraction from other’s problems.

Research Method:

We interviewed five different people immersed in the college environment. One staff member, two teachers, one administrator, and one student were sent a list of interview questions (sat down and discussed). We had 12 questions relating to empathy. Some of the questions were focused on a positive outlook, while others were focused on a negative one. In addition to positive and negative, some questions targeted a feeling of accepting and being accepted in the community. One question was designed to shed empathy in a negative light when exhibited too often. The last question of our interview was a curveball. It was the toughest question to answer because it was the most real. A question relating towards death of a loved one was to test how far the subjective was able to extend their empathy.


Our group interviewed members of the higher education community across all walks of life. Using our 12-question interview, we gathered data from one student, two teachers, one administrator, and one staff member.

The first common trend noticed in all five interviews was a question regarding social groups. All the interviewees stated that they avoid those outside the social group. The staff member and both teachers stated their reasoning as this: I don’t want to socialize with people who come off as offensive. The student and one of the two teachers also stated that people who are unfactual or easily disagree with are also avoided.

Another very common trend we noticed was general happiness. All subjects reported an increase in happiness when helping strangers or loved ones. The student interviewee in particular reported that he always puts the needs of his friends and loved ones before his own.

An anomaly noticed in our interviews came to light on question 10. Question 10 asked, “When do you feel you lack empathy for fellow classmates/peers?” The four adults gave similar answers, relating to moral disagreements. However, the student gave an answer that didn’t involve a disparity on beliefs. The student said that he loses a connection with someone when he is unable to hear them (the student is deaf). Once he meets this speech barrier, he feels left out. The final question that yielded interesting or important results was the 12th question. The 12th question was, “How do you react when someone tells you their loved one has passed?” Although all interviewees stated that they would feel compassion and sadness for the individual who lost, the student and teacher stated something reflecting true empathy. They essentially said they would tell them about their experiences with losing a loved one, that they are not alone and it is, “ok to be not ok.”


Overall, our hypothesis was rejected. We assumed that dealing with stress would inhibit or severely reduce empathy towards another, however the student and 2nd teacher’s responses yielded a different result. They gave a profound, deeply sincere answer to the 12th question. Death in the family is arguably the most destructive and stressful event in any individual’s life. If two out of the five interviewees gave a response that satisfies the deepest meaning of empathy, then we can conclude that stress does not definitively inhibit one’s capacity to suffer vicariously through another’s misfortunes.


Briggs, Saga. “How Empathy Affects Learning, And How To Cultivate It In Your Students.” InformED, InformED, 1 Nov. 2014. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

Wei, Meifen, et al. “Attachment, Self‐Compassion, Empathy, and Subjective Well‐Being Among College Students and Community Adults.” Journal of Personality, Blackwell Publishing Inc, 11 Jan. 2011. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

Is a career in clean water right for you?

We love our rivers, lakes and the Puget Sound and keeping these waters clean and healthy is one of the most important things we can all do!

If you are especially passionate about our region’s waters consider pursuing a career in clean water – starting with a degree in Sustainable Practices at Cascadia College.

AAS-T degree in Environmental Technologies and Sustainable Practices

BAS degree in Sustainable Practices

Current careers in clean water

Nonpoint Water Quality Inspector – Department of Ecology

Water Quality Section Manager – Department of Ecology

Environmental Scientist – TetraTech

Source Control Program Manager – Seattle Public Utilities

Questions?  Contact Cascadia’s Assistant Director of Sustainable Practices, Jodie Galvan, at jgalvan@Cascadia.edu or 425.352.8215.

Cascadia’s BAS in Sustainable Practices has only a few spaces left for Fall 2016!

Cascadia’s Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Sustainable Practices is a cohort based program that is completed in 6 quarters of primarily afternoon and evening classes.  It is an inspiring, challenging and practical program designed to launch your career in sustainability.  Here are a but a few examples of where this degree can take you:

Assistant Planner – City of Bellevue

Associate Planner – City of Woodinville

Long Range Planning Manager – City of Mercer Island

Parks Project Manager – City of Bellevue

Environmental Analyst II – Remediation – Port of Tacoma

Environmental Analyst II – Water Quality – Port of Tacoma

Sustainability Project Manager – Microsoft

Sustainability Engagement Manager – Amazon

Apply today to save your spot in our Fall 2016 cohort!  Questions?  Contact Jodie Galvan, Assistant Director of Sustainable Practices, at jgalvan@Cascadia.edu or 425.352.8215.


Where in the world will your passion for sustainability take you?

Land Tenure Specialist – Myanmar and Seattle

Technical Director (Environmental) – Hong Kong, China

African Climate Leadership Program Associate – Washington, DC and Africa

Program Officer – Andes/Amazon Region – Lima, Peru

Take the first step toward a rewarding and adventurous career in sustainability with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Sustainable Practices from Cascadia College.  Applications are due April 1st!

Kale, kale, everywhere kale!

Have you seen the beautiful green plants growing next to the library, and in front of CC1? If you haven’t, then you need to pull your face away from your phone and check out Cascadia’s Cornucopia! This food forest is filling the kalecampus with life, and an abundance of edible plants. Each week we hope to bring you a taste of the Cornucopia, and through our green thumb staff, show you how to gather up a bundle to take home today!

Today we begin with the most well-known-at-first-glance plant, kale. As the title of this post states, kale is growing out of the ears right now, so we encourage you to stock up. This is no joke, folks. Watch the video below as Tyson Kemper gives us his overview of kale, and the best way to harvest. Green Tip: Keep kale fresh after harvesting by putting it in a glass of water.