Tommies Unplugged: A Movement for Returning to what Matters Most

January 30, 2017 / By: Dr. William Brendel, Assistant Professor of Organization, Learning and Development

Bill BrendelThe only light more stunning than the one my iPad creates is the one I observe in my son’s eyes as he rides that famous red trolley into the land of make-believe. Staring back at each other, the everyday fetters of my four year old disappear as Fred Rogers welcomes him into the present moment, a land teeming with wonder, gratitude, and humanity. Watching from the same iPad, I experience a tinge of regret for having lived broad swaths of my adult life outside of the present moment; stuck in the past, anxious about the future, and missing a whole lot of ‘right now.’

Technology can be both a great distraction from and invitation to the present moment. To truly unplug then, it is not necessary to drastically reduce technology use, but rather let go of our unhealthy dependence upon it. Leaving the smartphone behind for even an hour can provoke a sense of anxiety, but as Kierkegaard once said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

Tommies Unplugged is a UST wellness movement designed to help college students develop a more mindful relationship with technology in order to enhance personal growth and wellness for success in endeavors during school and after graduation. It is an initiative that highlights the distinction between technology use that is conducive to personal growth, health, and success, and technology use that is maladaptive. Tommies Unplugged strives to teach students how to use technology more mindfully; increasing productivity, individuality, communication, and other skills necessary for growth and creativity both during school and after graduation. LEARN MORE!

The centerpiece of this movement is Tommies Unplugged Week, which takes place from Feb 21st – 25th.  DETAILED INFORMATION!





Tuesday 2/21/17








Lecture by Dr. Carol Bruess


Yoga in the library (newbies welcome!)

Wednesday 2/22/17







MHC 355

Connect with Nature


Connect with Fruit




Convo. Hour






The Loft





Tommies Unplugged Free Coffee at The Loft when you show your tattoo/wristband


Board Games


Thursday Night Life Unplugged







MCH 355




Mindfulness Practice Guided Meditation
BLOG about Tech Free Challenge opens.


Friday night unwind and unplug!




Meet in ASC before going to Groveland

Ice Skating at Groveland

The big day is Thursday. That’s when the UST community will unplug en masse. Here are some ideas you might try, and should certainly share with your students.

  • Study without distractions
  • Read a book for fun
  • Journal Catch up with a friend over coffee
  • Make a gourmet meal
  • Visit a new restaurant
  • Play a board game or cards with friends
  • Try a new workout routine
  • Organize your house/room

You’d be surprised about how many ways professors at UST are incorporating mindfulness into their teaching, research and service. In a recent study soon to be published, Dr. William Brendel and Dr. Vanessa Cornett Murtada identified ways professors have transformed the way they teach and the way they see themselves through the incorporation of mindfulness practice. These include applications to grading, attention to students in the classroom, and self-awareness in the teaching process. We are both happy to consult with you on ways you can help colleagues, students, and yourself return to what matters most. Here are three more ways to join the Tommies Unplugged movement:

  1. Invite your students (and yourself) to attend an upcoming lecture by Dr. Carol Bruess, titled Life in the Always-On Environment: Let’s Just Say, It’s Complicated.  Adults attend to their digital devices approximately 150 times a day. Most of us sleep with our phones – never (ever!) turning them off. The large majority of teens and young adults check in on their cells within 6 minutes of waking up EVERY day. Without question and no matter our age or stage in life, the majority of us are digitally-saturated. In this talk, Dr. Carol Bruess will summarize information on our “i-brains” and our i-approaches to almost everything in life, and inspire listeners to carefully reflect on the always-on communication style. She’ll challenge anyone wanting to optimize their own potential to think a bit more critically about the current state of wide-spread digital age communication trends, and to consider a more intentional, mindful and informed approach toward our daily lives.This lecture takes place on 2/21, at 12pm in JRC 126.
  2. Sign up for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program with Dr. William Brendel tolearn how to incorporate mindfulness practice into your life including classes you teach. Now in its third year at UST, MBSR is now supported the HR Department in its effort to develop healthy and caring climates for working together, employee resilience, leading wisely, and engaging in a diverse workforce with trust and non-judgment. This 8 week program – 1 day per week – will take place on Tuesdays over Convocation Hour on the following dates: April 4, 11, 18, 25, AND May 2, 9, 16, and 23. To sign up, email Dr. William Brendel at
  3. Try out a Virtual Reality Meditation at STELAR. If you haven’t heard by now, STELAR is the St. Thomas E-Learning And Research (STELAR) center, which enhances the teaching and learning mission of the university through innovative and transformative technologies. Located in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library, you can drop in at almost any time to use one of two virtual reality devices for an immersive meditation experience. The virtual reality goggles allow you to separate from distractions and focus on your breath, even in a public space. Drop by and be still on the shore of an imagined beach for ten minutes without leaving campus. Coming soon, STELAR will also introduce the Muse biofeedback headband, which utilizes brain sensors to help elevate mediation practice by guiding you through real-time audio feedback based on the state of your brain. Soundscapes include the beach, rainforest, desert and others. At the end of your session, the Muse system graphs your results to help measure your progress. Read more about these and other STELAR technologies!

To learn more about the Tommies Unplugged movement, please consider joining the Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation (PMC). The PMC vision is to inspire compassion, awareness, and wholeness in every moment. You can inquire by emailing one of the PMC Co-directors, Birdie Cunningham ( or myself. You can also visit the website for innumerable resources to unplug and help your students do the same.