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University Staff Member Participates in World's Largest Social and Emotional Learning Initiative

By Stacey Ortman

NEW YORK - Last month, Liza Johnson, EdD, director of personal empowerment at the University of Dubuque, participated in POP-UP Festival - the world's largest social and emotional learning initiative reaching 5 million children and adults in 200 countries and territories.

In partnership with UNICEF World Children's Day and Six Seconds, POP-UP Festival is celebrated around the world and is an impactful way to advocate, celebrate, and mark the Convention of the Right of the Child that was adopted by the United Nations in 1989.

"Social and emotional well-being is fundamental to a child's overall growth and success in life, and this festival provided a platform to raise awareness about these crucial aspects," Johnson said. "I felt deeply honored to champion this work."

Johnson, who serves as an EQ ambassador for Six Seconds, participated in a POP-UP Festival at UNICEF's headquarters in New York on November 20, 2023, to provide meaningful social and emotional learning activities to the children and families of United Nations and UNICEF employees.

"Research over the last decade has shown an increase in the number of young people battling brain health issues like depression and anxiety," Johnson said. "Through POP-UP Festival, children learn explicitly about their emotions and develop simple and practical strategies to navigate issues such as stress, isolation, and peer pressure."

During the festival, Johnson oversaw an activity called Goal Pizza in which children were asked to think about and develop goals related to their school, home, and community.

"Setting goals is a proven way to empower people and help them achieve their own definition of success," Johnson said. "This activity showed children a fun way to set goals and take action steps towards reaching them. The parents of the children were present during the activity, which played a vital role in guiding and supporting the children to set and create a plan to work towards their developed goals."

At one point, Johnson was working with a brother and sister who developed a memorable and powerful goal: to make an intentional effort to stop and listen to how the other person felt before responding when in an argument.

Johnson hopes the children who attended POP-UP Festival have a new awareness and understanding that feelings are an ally and powerful resource - not something good or bad.

"Understanding emotions as valuable signals or data can enhance their ability to navigate challenges, express themselves effectively, and make informed decisions," Johnson said. "My hope is that through POP-UP we normalize the process of talking about feelings and help children understand that they are important messages to guide them to make good decisions."

The work highlighted at POP-UP Festival is also work UD is committed to through its mission of educating the whole student. In her role as director of personal empowerment, Johnson oversees a program that is committed to teaching UD undergraduate students, faculty, and staff social and emotional skills to help navigate life's complexities and to improve their overall wellbeing.

Johnson plans on bringing POP-UP Festival to the UD community this spring as part of the first-year experience course, World View Seminar II.

"Students will be deciding what activities are relevant to our campus and will host the festival sometime in late February," Johnson said. "The hope is to have an annual POP-UP at UD and eventually extend it into the Dubuque community."