Click here for an interactive tree viewer for the Personal Growth topics.

ABOVE: Tree visualization of the Growth topic model representing 971 students responses.

Topic Model Results We estimated a topic model with 11 topics, 971 open-ended responses, and a 286 word dictionary. (after removing stop words). The resulting topics are interpreted and described in the accompanying sections, and the responses reflect two major topic branches: Self Fulfillment and Humanist Perspective. The detailed methods for estimating the model can be found in the section on Topic Modeling and Interpretation.


Growth through encountering new experiences and people (external to self), through the acquisition of new competencies (demonstrable self skills), and the development of cognitive and emotional complexity (internal to self) combined with the ability to fully explore and exploit this growth. All of this helped students to discover and understand themselves as they moved down the path of maturity and change that leads to Self-Fulfillment.

Experiencing the New

New people, new connections, new ideas – this growth through Experiencing the New was an important response area in asking about how students believed they could grow through the arts. They were Connecting with People in New Ways and having Exposure to New Experiences, as you would expect with the wide variety of offerings and resources afforded them in the culturally and intellectually diverse environment of the university.

Connect with People in New Ways

Under the topic of Connect with People in New Ways, students report that the arts gave them increased opportunities to both understand other’s values and perspectives and to meet people they would not have otherwise encountered.

Representative Quotes

*“Personally, it’s made me see that it’s a way to engage with people in a way I never would’ve thought. I am good at keeping to myself and being in my own little world, but music, arts, expression all help to connect people with one another and engage our emotions and passions.”

“I think that people are able to grow through the arts because it provides a needed outlet not only for personal expression of identity, values, and beliefs, but for connecting with one another. Arts are something that require no common language, experiences, or backgrounds, and people across communities can coexist and learn from one another through the arts.”

“The arts offer a new lens with which to view different people’s experiences and perspectives, and getting a glimpse through that lens can only offer more knowledge about the world and all the people in it.”

“Can gain creativity, will also be able to meet new people that are different from the traditional business people I always hang out with and they can give me a different perspective on things.”

“You can broaden your horizons and come to appreciate people with different talents and interests, as well as the lives people live in other cultures (even within the same country).”*

Exposure to New Experiences

Another way students indicated they could grow through the arts was by gaining Exposure to New Experiences. This exposure led to new thinking, new interactions, different perspectives, and the discovery of new interests, talents, and points of inspiration.

Representative Quotes

*“Grow in confidence, expose you to arts, people, or things you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.”

“Explore new things that I have never learned about.”

“You can diversify your interests – there are so many things to choose from, and I think there’s something out there for almost everyone. It’s a chance to express yourself in a way you wouldn’t normally.”

“It just gives you a broader mindset and makes you think about things in many different ways.”

“The arts can always inspire new thoughts and emotions. The arts can inspire you to do something or be something creative that you would never have been otherwise.”*

Personal Skills

Students describe the arts as a mechanism to develop Personal Skills, most specifically leadership, communication, discipline, responsibility, patience, organization, teamwork and expression. They also spoke about more individual growth in areas such as aesthetic development, beliefs, values, interests, relationship building, self understanding, and reflection.

Representative Quotes

*“I think that being involved in any organization teaches you a lot of valuable skills that are needed to enter the workforce; time management, conflict resolution, completing tasks to the set standard, fulfilling commitments.”

“Being involved in the arts teaches time management, patience, and discipline. These can all further a person’s growth through life.”

“It can help build relationships and character. It can teach discipline and responsibility, etc.”

“I feel being involved in the arts requires you to go within yourself to find what pleases you. It involved a level of introspection that most other subjects cannot lay claim to.”

“Personal development, arts appreciation, leadership, personal knowledge”

“Personal expression. The arts force you to reflect on yourself, what you’ve done in your life, how you feel about it, and what that means to you. I have yet to find another activity that forces you to do all of this like being in the Arts.”*

Intra-Personal Growth

Improving the skills gained and taking opportunties presented through the arts, the Self Exploration is complementary to students becoming More Self Aware – giving them reflective insights into themselves. These nodes together created a kind of feedback cycle – exploring self through arts experiences then reflecting on the outcomes to more deeply understand themselves lead to Intra-Personal growth. Thinking and feeling – both cognitive and emotional growth – are expressed through the key words and description in the responses in this area.

Self Exploration

Student respondents talk about the arts as enabling them to express or expand themselves in more ways or directions – both inwardly and outwardly. They described opportunities for Self Exploration and being able to stretch themselves (“think outside the box”) without fear of judgement. The arts offered a creative outlet, which resulted in self relaxation, discovery, and expression. There were also reports of developing competencies, setting and accomplishing goals, and having a positive self image.

Representative Quotes

*“I used to play an instrument in high school, and it was very rewarding when hard work and dedication paid off as a medal or as many compliments after our shows. It demonstrated achieving goals and feeling good about your accomplishments.”

“Having the peace and solitude to paint whatever I feel like gives me time to relax and enjoy life.”

“It helps to develop a sense of character, and leaves me feeling more well-rounded. I get so sick of doing quantitative things all the time (for my major) it feels good to use the other side of my brain, and be able to be creative without the fear of messing up or being wrong.”

“You really find yourself through the arts. Traditional education will teach you and shape you, but through the arts you really get to find and define yourself.”

“It can get me to think outside the box, and to express myself. It seems like art is all about expression so it is a way to get out some stress and anger.”

“I think art provides a good balance to life. With the stress of my anticipated career choice, I will need time to do things for myself, for my own enjoyment. I think it will be just a wonderful way to reflect, to express, and to relax.”*

More Self-Aware

Positively reflecting on their own interests, character, thinking, and experiences through their arts participation gave students unique insight into themselves and the choices they were making in their life’s path – they became More Self Aware. The arts helped them increase their depth of knowledge, critically evaluate ranges of opinion, and find “spaces that make (one) genuinely happy.” Students also reflected on the likely developing self awareness of others through arts engagement.

Representative Quotes

*“I think participating in the arts can help me with self-reflection and keeping me in a stress-free environment. Music helps me get through rough days very often.”

“I think the way I think can be affected in a positive way which will further influence every other aspect of my life.”

“I think that the arts can bring joy into one’s life. I also think that experiences with the arts contribute to a person’s intelligence and personal development.”

“I think I can further my creative abilities, and find spaces that make me genuinely happy. Perhaps, it will help me find my calling in life.”

“Appreciation of the arts consists of a lot of self-reflection, and I think this is where we grow as people. You are seeking out arts that are meaningful to you, and I think that allows us to know more about who we are. I also think participation in the arts requires a lot of hard work and stamina, so you grow in those ways as well.”

“The arts can expand your thinking by increasing range of knowledge and allowing one to evaluate more opinions.”*

Humanist Perspective

Developing increased Cultural Appreciation, empathy, and a More Open-minded approach, while improving oneself across multiple domains of experience and embodiment – Spiritually, Emotionally, Mentally, Physically – describes responses in this major parent node. Arts engagement in college are credited by students with supporting and encouraging areas of growth toward the adoption of a more Humanist Perspective.

Cultural Appreciation

It is a commonly held belief that the arts are a gateway to increased cultural awareness and understanding, often transcending barriers such as language and geography to convey commonalities and differences in accessible ways. Gaining Cultural Appreciation is an important area of response from students recognizing the role the arts play in understanding and appreciating the richness and diversity of culture, cultural groups and the associated range of arts and artistic expression. There were also expressions of experiencing diversity through the appreciation of the beauty of artistic and cultural expression.

Representative Quotes

*“Gaining difference perspectives on the world, learning about different cultures, sometimes learning to work with a large group of people, sometimes a small group.”

“Learning more about different cultures and groups.”

“I think that you can learn to appreciate the diversity in society and find beauty in differences.”

“Learn to appreciate different forms of arts.”

“As a person you can grow in appreciation of different arts and cultures, art is invaluable in our culture.”

“You can see the world in a different way and learn to appreciate the beauty that is around us.”*


Reaching past themselves toward Understanding and Accepting Others and through, in part, the development of an Expanded Worldview, students expected to be more comfortable with difference, mature in their perspective, and expansive in their beliefs through engagement in the arts. Being able to understand, accept and expand their views through the arts caused them to include and embrace others’ perspectives, cultures and lived experiences – to become more Empathetic.

Understanding and Accepting Others

Understanding and Accepting Others is reported as a growth outcome of arts engagement for students at U-M. Students report increased feelings of acceptance, respect, tolerance, and appreciation for the culture, perspectives and expression of others, while better understanding their own cultural perspectives and expression. This reciprocal development of understanding is reported as enhancing student’s relationships to others, and increasing their ability to express their own viewpoints.

Representative Quotes

*“I can grow to be more mature and tolerant of situations. Also, to be more sympathetic toward others.”

“It can expand your worldview and enable you to understand others’ cultural perspectives. – breeds tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of differences. So, in that sense, it can act as a tool for social change.”

“Enhance your sense of self, creativity, expression, and respect for the work of others.”

“I think you can learn to understand yourself better, to understand others better, to be more creative and confident.”

“You can understand how different people think, and learn from how others perceive and interpret art to get a better understanding of them as a person, and as a result reflect on how you may think or interpret things differently.”

“You can become more open-minded and respectful of others while gaining your own set of morals and beliefs through self-expression.”*

Expanded Worldview

Expansion of one’s worldview and horizons was a clearly expected outcome of students’ participation with the arts at U-M, bolstered by increased cultural knowledge and appreciation and a broader understanding of the points of view of others.

Representative Quotes

*“I can continue to gain more of an expanded cultural view of the world.”

“By participating in the arts one is able to see the world from viewpoints that you might not have thought of before..the arts just expand your worldview and help you connect better to those that see the world differently from you. The arts are a medium for communication.”

“You can learn more about yourself, your world view and others view of the world through the arts.”

“Expand your cultural viewpoints. Learn about others points of view.”

“I think I can continue to develop my worldview and expand my knowledge of the world through the arts.”

“By broadening my world view and becoming more accepting of other cultures and belief systems.”

“Expand one’s horizons, explore new ways of thinking and experiencing the world.”*

More Open-minded

Students report that they would expect engagement with the arts to make them More Open-minded – to ideas, to creativity, to themselves, and to others. They also thought this would lead to increased confidence and self esteem, as well as a greater understanding of complex or abstract concepts, expressions, and emotions

Representative Quotes

*“As I stated before, I believe the arts can express an idea in ways that maybe simply saying that idea cannot. The arts have a unique ability to not only transmit the thinking behind an idea, but also the emotion and spirit behind the idea.”

“Creatively, open mindedness, critical thinking.”

“Self confidence, freedom of expression, opening minds to other forms of expression.”

“The same way I have changed as a person. Being more open minded and accepting to different ideas.”

“I think involvement in the arts can promote open mindedness, self discovery, appreciation of beauty, improved self esteem, and other personal developments.”

“As an engineer, I am often in a very analytical, mathematical, black-and-white mindset. The arts help me to think outside of the well-defined box and lend me creativity and a more open mind.”*


Engagement with the arts can affect all domains of a student’s personal development at college – Spiritually, Emotionally, Mentally, Physically – building a platform of experiences, perspectives and knowledge that affirms the holistic nature of the college experience in forming and challenging students to become who they believe they were meant to be. Being able, then, to engage with themselves and others with increased Creativity, Expression and Communication, Holistically describes student’s internal and external development through the arts.

Spiritually, Emotionally, Mentally, Physically

Development in any number of major areas – Spiritually Emotionally, Mentally, Physically – leading to being a more complete, well rounded individual, are reported by students when asked how they might grow through the arts. These responses range from students just listing growth areas to what the outcomes of being more well-rounded would contribute both to the individual and to the greater good.

Representative Quotes

*“Spiritually, creatively. Become more well rounded.”

“Artistically, emotionally and mentally.”

“Spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, tentatively, financially, qualitatively, quantitatively, happily, paradoxically, sexually, thoughtfully, and creatively.”

“Become inspired to go out and change the world, change the nation and become a better person and American citizen.”

“Mentally, Emotionally, Spiritually, and Socially.”

“Culturally, spiritually, emotionally, physically.”

“Emotionally and spiritually. Probably not so much physically, unless I plan to start painting ceilings Michelangelo style.”*

Creativity, Expression and Communication

In the typical responses in this topic area, students report lists of expressive skills they anticipate one might develop specifically from engagement in the arts. These primarily include, but are not limited to, self-expression, communication, and creativity. There are also responses that suggest these listed skills may be “applied to all other areas of life and work”.

Representative Quotes

*“Self expression, self fulfillment, skill development, and social interactions.”

“Creatively, in time management skills, expression, and more.”

“Interpersonal and creative skills.”

“Communication, creativity, open-mindedness.”

“You can develop good critical thinking skills, organizational skills, time management, and creative skills.”

“In leadership, in creativity, in expression, in communication.”

“The arts are essential to the development of one’s creative thinking and problem solving skills, and these can be applied to all other areas of life and work.”*