Skip to Content

WGU Academic Engagement Webinars Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the lifelong process through which we develop adaptive skills for academic, career, and life success. SEL programs improve educational outcomes by teaching the skills necessary for academic resilience. Rather than a standalone program, course or module, SEL is woven throughout each WGU student’s journey and every employee’s experience through an ecosystem of care.  This series will cover four elements of WGU’s integrated implementation model: skills instruction for faculty and staff, skills instruction for students, embedded opportunities for practice, and reinforcement through high-impact interactions.

Can't make it in real time? Sign up anyway! After each seminar is complete, we will send out the presentations to all registrants. Recordings and resource materials from each session will be available on this page after the event.

Presenter bios.

Dr. Jennie Sanders is the director of faculty experience at Western Governors University. She is responsible for the centralized innovation, strategies, policies, and tools of more than 2,600 course and program faculty members.

As a first-in-family college graduate, Jennie is passionate about applying data-informed strategies, technology innovations, and social emotional learning skills to make transformative educational experiences accessible to every learner. She holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell University and has over 10 years of experience in higher education serving in leadership, instructional, and curricular design roles. 

Hilary Simon joined WGU in January 2019 as the senior social and emotional learning analyst on the Student Experience team. Prior to joining WGU, Hilary gained 20 years’ experience in K–12 education, ranging from designing and delivering individualized interventions for neurodiverse students to guiding large-scale implementations of culturally responsive social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in urban school districts. She co-founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing SEL professional development for educators. She has also served as an SEL specialist, mindfulness for teens instructor, autism specialist, and behavior analyst, and taught in elementary grades.

She holds two master's degrees in education. When she isn’t hatching up new ways to advocate for SEL, she’s playing with her two children in Austin, Texas.

Dr. Doug Scheib is a course faculty manager at Western Governors University supporting the general education algebra-stats course instructor team.

He holds a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Miami and was a general education algebra-stats course instructor before moving into his current role. He held roles as a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow, Master Independent Contractor for Cengage, and a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the creation of WGU’s unique applied algebra course, all in support of his commitment to helping people see the relevance and importance of math in disciplines across the academic spectrum and in everyday life.

He believes that self-improvement is a never-ending process and is passionate about supporting people in their continuous growth and development.

Dr. Lisa Wellinghoff has a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Tulsa and a master’s degree from WGU in learning and technology. She has been with WGU for eight years and teaches composition courses in general education. Before WGU, she served as a technical writer and proposal writer for Pearson and a senior lecturer at West Virginia University.

She is an avid reader (especially anything by Margaret Atwood or Ursula Le Guin). She is also passionate about organization. Her goals including learning Portuguese, traveling back to Brazil, completing various writing projects, and successfully raising her creative, musical daughter.

Dr. Mason McWatters is a course instructor in general education at WGU. He holds a Ph.D. in geography and an M.A. degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He has over 16 years of experience in higher education, having previously worked as an instructor and academic affairs administrator at a variety of institutions, including Western Carolina University, Tarrant County College, and UT Austin.

In addition to guiding students to discover more about our interconnected world through the study of geography, Mason is passionate about serving non-traditional, economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students. Mason’s research background focuses on the relationships between migration and tourism in Mexico and Central America. He has published research on regional labor migration in the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as a book about international retirement migration to Boquete, Panama.

Dr. Gina Dorré received her Ph.D. in English from Tulane University.  Her area of expertise is nineteenth-century British literature with an emphasis on cultural and gender studies.  She has extensive experience teaching literature, writing, women's studies, and humanities at the university level.  She has published several journal articles, and her book, Victorian Fiction and the Cult of the Horse, was published in 2006 by Ashgate Publishing, currently owned by Routledge. 

In her personal life, Gina enjoys reading, gardening, cooking and hiking, and she currently lives in Southern Oregon with her husband Adam and her cat Miró.  She has worked for nine years at WGU as a course instructor in literature and the humanities. 

Veronica Robles, Ed.D., is a course instructor in WGU’s Teachers College and has been for the past 5 years. She earned her B.A. in extended English, an M.A. in educational psychology, and her doctorate in educational leadership and innovation. During her years in the PreK-12 school system, she held a variety of roles and implemented programs on campuses to aid the whole child, such as Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Parenting Partners, and Arizona State University’s American Dream Academy.

She enthusiastically supports individuals in the Teacher Preparation program at WGU as they prepare to bring tools such as SEL into the classroom through “Schools as Communities of Care.”

Lorena M. Harris, Ed.D., serves as a course instructor in the Teachers College at WGU. In the past four years she has worked to support students in effective teaching practices and specific teaching practices. A native Texan, she earned her bachelor's degree from Texas Southern University with a specialization in middle grades math and science.

As she served in middle schools around the United States, she worked to obtain a master's degree in instructional technology and a doctorate degree in instructional leadership. She also led various student groups as well as worked with school-wide leadership teams to increase parental involvement while building relationships with community stakeholders. Her newest assignment is instructing Schools as Communities of Care. This course prepares candidates in the Teachers College to gain understanding in modes and methods that schools use in partnership with the community, families, and stakeholders to provide a community of care.

Natalie Murray joined WGU in December 2017 as vice president of student experience. Her early professional career began in physics and included lightning research at NASA. She later turned her focus to higher education, where she invested more than 17 years teaching in various modalities, designing courses and programs to meet pedagogical and institutional goals, and building and executing technology solutions. Natalie also developed and implemented large-scale enterprise systems to track student engagement and deliver personalized content and insights to a 360-degree student community of care.

Prior to joining WGU, Natalie worked for the University of Texas Institute of Transformational Learning where she led technology program strategy and cross-functional teams across student lifecycle management, marketing, course development, and learning technologies. She also ensured the launch of UTSAs first online program, increasing campus capacity for online learning. Natalie holds two M.S. degrees in atmospheric science and instructional design and technology. 

Jennie Sanders Jennie Sanders
Lisa Wellinghoff Lisa Wellinghoff
Veronica Robles Veronica Robles
Hilary Simon Hilary Simon
Mason McWatters Mason McWatters
Lorena Harris Lorena Harris
Doug Scheib Doug Scheib
Gina Dorre Gina Dorre
Natalie Murray Natalie Murray

Session 1: Social and emotional learning and learner-centered faculty.

Presenters: Jennie Sanders, Director Faculty Experience; Hilary Simon, Senior Social and Emotional Learning Analyst

Learning is an inherently emotional act; emotions regulate our motivation, attention, and focus. Faculty need both instructional skills and social and emotional learning (SEL) skills to empathize and engage with their students in ways productive to learning. WGU provides SEL training, development, and support to empower our faculty to center their instructional interventions around each student’s emotional and academic needs. 

We design faculty work around the learner’s journey, academic progress, and wellbeing through our Learner-Centered Faculty (LCF) initiative. LCF is an ecosystem of various faculty roles, tools, policies, and practices that organizes faculty interventions around key milestones and touchpoints in the student’s journey to provide potent, personalized support for every learner.  

In this presentation, we’ll describe our initiatives and their impact thus far, and explore ways our work at WGU may translate to the student experience in your context.

Session 1 recording

Session 2: Leveraging social and emotional learning in online communities of practice.

Presenters: Dr. Doug Scheib, Faculty Manager; Dr. Lisa Wellinghoff, Course Instructor; Dr. Mason McWatters, Course Instructor; and Dr. Gina Dore, Course Instructor

Relationships are a powerful vehicle for collaborative, job-embedded professional development. When colleagues have an opportunity to learn together and from each other, within a safe space that is based on rapport and relational trust, they can engage in a transformative learning process to better address the success of every individual they support.     

In this session, we will describe an innovative approach to facilitating communities of practice online.  

Presenters will discuss social and emotional skills, such as curiosity, vulnerability and courage, that are critical to learning, growth, and academic success. 

Session 2 recording | Session 2 resources

Session 3: Social and emotional learning in professional curriculum for teachers.

Presenters: Faculty members Dr. Veronica Robles and Dr. Lorena Harris

Educators are often faced with situations beyond a student’s academic progress. In fact, 78% of teachers surveyed in November 2019 stated they felt it was a part of their job to help students develop strong social and emotional skills. Yet, only 15% of those teachers stated they felt very or extremely prepared to address student mental health needs. Western Governors University’s Teachers College recently restructured its Professional Core (ProCore) Teacher Preparation path to include a new course titled “Schools as Communities of Care.” This course is deigned to empower WGU students in the Teacher Prep program to support the whole child through Social Emotional Learning (SEL). WGU is addressing this need in teacher preparation programs during a time when it is needed most.  Participants will come away with an understanding of the “Schools of Communities of Care” professional core curriculum, methods for assessing course competencies, and the impact “Schools as Communities of Care” will make in classrooms across the nation.

Session 3 recording


Session 4: Resilience at work—resilience programming at scale.

Presenters: Natalie Murray, VP Student Experience; Hilary Simon, Senior Social and Emotional Learning Analyst

As we know, educator well-being and competence in Social and Emotional Skills impacts student outcomes. Now more than ever, faculty and staff need support in maintaining their own mental health and wellness as they cope with challenges while also supporting their students.

As higher education looks ahead to future transformation, the need for scalable, sustainable well-being skills training increases. At WGU, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, we have implemented a fully virtual model for resilience training for our leaders, faculty and staff. The program will support their well-being and empower them to achieve key results.

This session will provide rationale for large-scale implementation of resilience training, ways that WGU has translated the UPenn program to an online experience and the positive outcomes and learnings from our first round of training. Research design, predicted impacts of the second round of training, and goals for expanding the program to students will also be discussed.

Session 4 recording


Explore WGU programs.