The authors for this story are eight students from the COMM 2311 News Writing Levelland section. They wrote this story as a group during class and tackled headline and lead writing, direct versus indirect quote choices, as well as organization. Their goal was accuracy as well as making the story flow. Student names are: Andrew Angelo, Cutter Bishop, Katie Brackens, Briana Constable, Jackson Riddle, Dell Smith, Theresa Thurston, and Colton Walters. All photo illustrations are from students in COMM 1316 News Photography 1. Name credits appear on the photos.
The countdown is on. It’s only about three weeks until midterm exams. Assignments are beginning to pile up.
South Plains College is doing what it can to helps students deal with stress. It’s set up two spots on the Levelland campus that are designed to help, and they’re hiding in plain sight.
Both spots are jigsaw puzzle stations.
The stations are actually small tables that sit off to the side, so they are easy to miss.
One table is on the left in the giant lobby of the Wilburn and Helen Wheeler Science Center.
The other table is in the library near the stem murals behind the circulation desk.
Academic Support Technician Tylan Jones keeps a stack of 1000- piece puzzle boxes in a cabinet in the science center. He says he puts a new puzzle out about once a semester.
He says he sees as many as six or seven students at a time come by the table to work the puzzles. “It’s usually smaller groups of people,” he says, “waiting in between classes or people with some down time.”
Sometimes, he says, he jumps in to work on them too. He calls it “engaging.”
“It stimulates the problem solving,” Jones says. “It’s great pattern recognition. Once you get in the flow of things, it’s easy to focus and kind of just turn your mind off of everything else and just kind of focus in on that one thing.”
Experts agree, and they say it can help with stress management.
Rachael Montgomery, who is a counselor and outreach coordinator at the Levelland Health and Wellness Center, says she sometimes helps students who are stressed or anxious.
“We often talk about classroom stress,” she says, “test taking strategies, if you’re stressed out about time management, we talk about those things and how to reduce that pressure.”
Montgomery says she thinks puzzle tables are a good idea.
“If we’re consumed by our tests, or we are consumed by all the stress or the things that we need to do,” Montgomery says, “if we take a moment and we go do a puzzle or we sit and color or go in a dark room or a word search or anything like that, it accesses the problem solving part of our brain to kind of let that energy process relax our nervous system.”
As it turns out, stress management is why both jigsaw puzzle tables were set up at SPC.
Diana Bruner, administrative assistant to the biology and science departments, says former Biology Department Chairperson David Etheredge, designed the puzzle station in the science center when he helped design the building.
“He gave me pictures from wildlife class trips,” Bruner says, “and I had them made into puzzles.”
The 1000- piece jigsaw puzzle currently out in the science center is called “Botanica”.
Student Esosa Iyengunmwena called it “annoying” when asked to describe it. Why? “It’s so hard,” he says.
So, can jigsaw puzzles cause more stress than they relieve?
Student Isabela Salas says maybe so. “Sometimes I want a challenge to distract me from stress,” she says. “But some people might want something easier so they can keep their mind going.”
Rachael Montgomery says the answer may depend on your level of tolerance. “So, if you are already feeling defeated,” she says, “do something simple, right? Do something that you can succeed at.” In other words, maybe try a simpler puzzle.
What else would Montgomery recommend besides jigsaw puzzles and coloring? Journaling helps, she says. Other suggestions include going for walks or going to the gym to participate in physical activity. Also, she suggests coming to counseling.
In the meantime, the jigsaw puzzle tables are there for students when they need them.
The puzzle table at the Wilburn and Helen Wheeler Science Center is available any Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. On Saturdays it’s closed. But it’s open again on Sunday from 1:30 – 9:30 p.m.
The Levelland library puzzle table is available any Monday through Thursday from 7:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays it’s 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Saturdays it’s closed. But it’s open again on Sundays from 2 – 6 p.m.
The current “puzzle keeper” in the library, Academic Support Technician Meshack Mendoza, says he puts out a new 1000-piece puzzle about once every two weeks.
“As soon as one gets completed,” he says, “I’ll put one right in its place.”
The library, he says, is in the process of getting a new puzzle set soon.
“I’m so excited to hear we are getting new puzzles!”, says SPC student Isabella Jaramillo. She says she often goes to the library to work on the puzzles and has completed all the ones they currently have.
“I have not always done puzzles,” she says. “It helped me pass the time last year while on campus during the weekend and days I felt very upset or stressed.”
Jaramillo is a guard on the Lady Texans basketball team. Mendoza says he sees her almost every day after class in the library.
“Within 30 minutes or 45 minutes,” he says, “she’ll have a good majority of the puzzle done just by herself.”
Whether you tackle it in a group or by yourself, jigsaw puzzling just might be one way for you to beat stress as midterms get closer.
“I choose to do the puzzles because they help alleviate stress,” Jaramillo says. “I also love the unique challenge that every puzzle presents. I get to relax, see how much faster I get at solving them, and finish a hard challenge. I feel happy after I accomplish each one.”