Wellness Activities: A perfect fit for the community college programming puzzle

Wellness Activities: A perfect fit for the community college programming puzzleSteven K. Martin & Joshua L. Wick2004-11-0112Cover Storytrue

There is an ongoing need to educate college students in developing lifetime skills for maintaining their personal wellness. It has been said that young adults ages 20 to 30 often perceive themselves as indestructible (Millstein & Halpern-Fletcher, 2002), and therefore might not be as likely to consider their wellness. Additionally, the Condition of Education 2003 report noted that "students at community colleges were more likely to have dependents, work full time, and delay enrollment. [And,] 64 percent of students at community colleges attend school part time due to work responsibilities" (Campbell, 2004, p. 18). As a result, these students might not have the time or flexibility to independently develop skills to maintain their personal wellness. The reality is that students may know what the right choice would be for long-term wellness, but may not be attending to it because of one or more of these mitigating factors in their lives. Community colleges can address the importance of wellness through the programming they offer to their students and the greater campus community.

Wellness is often associated exclusively with physical health. Swartzberg and Margen (2001) tell us: "The central tenet of wellness is that advances in medical diagnosis and treatment, while certainly beneficial, are not sufficient to protect and enhance your health" (p. 14). Certainly physical health is a key ingredient in life. However, there are other elements of great importance in a satisfying life. The National Wellness Institute (2000) defines wellness as: "an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence" (¶ 1). The institute operates using the Six Dimensional Model of Wellness developed by Bill Hettler in 1979. The six dimensions of social, physical, occupational, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual are viewed as interrelated to one another (NWI, 2000).

Colleges and universities have historically challenged students to be all that they can be in a number of wellness areas. Boyer (1987) states: "The early American college did not doubt its responsibility to educate the whole person-body, mind, and spirit" (p. 177). Professors served double duty, providing both academic and student services. As specialized student services staff emerged, residence life departments evolved to offer programs that met many of the health and wellness education needs where students lived. Student activities specialists complimented these programming efforts at most institutions, and four-year institutions, given their longer history of organizational evolution, have a longer track record of presenting health education and now wellness programs.

The original concept of the community college can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson (1817), who envisioned "district colleges" that would be located about a day's ride from the citizens. The first community colleges emerged in the early part of the 20th century. Community colleges rapidly grew in number when the G.I. Bill, passed by the U.S. Congress after World War II, provided a large veteran population with the means to get a college education and the American economy demanded a more educated workforce. Today, most mission statements direct community colleges to provide educational opportunities across the lifespan of students, along with accessibility, affordability, vocational, and transfer programs for the communities they serve. Several years ago the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) issued the following Policy Statement on Health and Wellness (1999):

Community colleges recognize the importance of health in the learning, retention, productivity, and well-being of students, faculty, and staff alike. Health is not merely the absence of disease, but is promotion of the mental, physical, social, environmental, and spiritual well-being of individuals and communities. Being largely social, environmental, and behavioral means that many modern-day illnesses are preventable, but only through a combination of individual and broad community measures. In an effort to encourage citizens to embrace their personal and social responsibility, and higher education institutions to embrace their organizational responsibilities in matters of health, the American Association of Community Colleges encourages the integration of health into all facets of community college life and offers the following recommendations:

  • Community colleges should create an environment that supports health in which institutional mechanisms such as policy, programs, curricula, services, and collaborative work with the community promote and support health and wellness.
  • Community colleges should view health as a powerful and appealing vehicle for interdisciplinary learning, skills building, and career development. (¶; 1)

Based on community colleges' lifelong learning mission and the statement directing these institutions to develop programs in this area, it is easy to see that wellness provides a credible paradigm for planning many of the programs presented at community colleges.

Harford Community College (HCC), located in Bel Air, Md., was already in the process of implementing wellness initiatives as the AACC policy emerged. The college's mission statement asserted that the institution would serve to "improve the overall quality of life" for the community. HCC's mission statement was modified in 2000, directing the college "to serve as the center for recreation, wellness, and the cultural arts."

The HCC Student Life program was renamed College Life and Wellness in 1999, reflecting the wellness emphasis in program offerings. HCC defines wellness "as a lifelong process of becoming more aware and making choices toward a more fulfilling life, achieving a holistic balance of mind, body and spirit" (HCC, 2004b, p. 4). A Wellness and Sustainability Model was developed, which also reflected the college's sustainability initiatives as a responsible environmental partner and to achieve HCC President Claudia Chiesi's vision of "being a good neighbor and to educate our community about environmental issues through our programs, as well as our behavior" (Schaffer, 2004, p. 5). This model includes the following components:

Occupational - Finding work that uses our talents and strengths and provides personal satisfaction.

Social - Relationships with and care for others-interacting with others from diverse backgrounds, the interdependence one has with others, including those within and outside one's family.

Emotional - Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your feelings; understanding others' emotions and maintaining intimate relationships with them.

Spiritual - Striving for the meaning and purpose of one's life, a sense of awareness and direction, clarifying one's values, and appreciating and understanding the interconnectedness of life.

Environmental - Relating to the quality of air, water, food, working conditions, and personal safety. A healthy environment is the key to the success of our future as a species.

Intellectual - Remaining mentally active, developing critical thinking skills, becoming a lifetime learner-having zest for knowledge.

Physical - Exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep (i.e., seven to eight hours per day), and eating food that is organically and locally grown and nutritionally balanced. (HCC, 2004b, pp. 3-4)

The College Life and Wellness program at HCC has offered numerous programs to assist students and employees in designing a better life. The annual Wellness Fair has featured cholesterol testing, lifestyle coaching, free chair massages, iridology, energy balancing, and information on nutrition, personal training, tobacco cessation, Reiki, skin care, etc. An annual Wellness Day program has included presentations on strength training, emotional intelligence, prevention of cardiovascular disease, green design and sustainability, and social and spiritual wellness, with academic health classes providing a guaranteed audience. Other programs have included Women's Health Day, Men's Health Day, Empty Bowl Meals Project, the Crimes Against Nature program addressing both humorous and dangerous expectations for males in society, National Coming Out Day luncheon, African-American History Month luncheon, and a guest speaker on civility, to name a few. While many of these programs are offered at other colleges and universities, the wellness paradigm provides a framework for planning these offerings to meet the holistic needs of students.

Organizationally, College Life and Wellness is a part of the Wellness Services area, which also includes both the Health and Physical Education and Athletics departments. Wellness naturally extends into classroom offerings, with a three-credit Wellness Theories and Applications course entering its ninth year and a new Global Health course in its inaugural year. Wellness Services is not the only area presenting wellness programs on campus; there are a number of areas presenting individually sponsored programs as well as collaborative efforts.

HCC is far from alone in offering wellness programming at community colleges. Pikes Peak Community College has offered a number of wellness activities based on students' interests. Megan Boyle, coordinator of student activities, commented: "The theory of student life is to look at our students' lives and ensure that they are healthy, safe, meaningful, and rewarding in every sense of the word. Our goal is to expose them to the theories of wellness so that they can make the best decisions for themselves" (personal communication, July 22, 2004). One recent program offered was a Fitness Fair, bringing many campus organizations and departments together along with community agencies (addressing many dimensions of wellness). Some of the participating groups included athletics, health educators, the Bike Club, Weight Watchers, and the Heart Association. Other wellness programs have included Breast Cancer Awareness through the Angle Network, and an African-American women's group that promotes health screenings for women (addressing the physical dimension).

The Physical Education department at Laramie County Community College plans wellness activities on campus. These activities include programs on nutritional health, financial management and debt reduction, healthy relationships, and basketball and volleyball tournaments (K. Robinder, personal communication, July 22, 2004).

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, with four campus locations, sponsors wellness programs through the Office of the College Health Nurse to assist students in maintaining their physical and emotional health as they progress in their educational program. It provides a number of health/wellness promotions, information, resources, and referrals. Some programs and activities include a Health Fair, tetanus immunizations, Mantoux Test for tuberculosis screening (all addressing the physical dimension); tobacco and drug prevention education (addressing the physical and intellectual dimensions); counseling related to physical and emotional health, and support groups (H. Schweitzer, personal communication, August 10, 2004).

At Prince George's Community College, the Health Education Center recently provided a unique Natural Paths System workshop to assist students in caring for themselves holistically (addressing many wellness dimensions). Another event included $300 worth of free testing for cholesterol, kidney, and anemia (addressing the physical dimension). Pam Thomas, coordinator of the Health Education Center, commented that: "Students seem to see topics such as STD, HIV, and other physical health-related issues as more important than the areas of nutrition" (personal communication, July 23, 2004).

The Student Activities Office at Chesapeake College coordinated a Wellness Week before final exams. Student Activities partnered with a number of people, groups, companies, and organizations from on and off campus. A different theme was offered each day:

  • Day 1 included a program on healthy eating, diet, and neutrinos, in which students made recipes for snacks on the go (addressing the physical, intellectual, and social dimensions of wellness).Day 2 featured a program on drug and alcohol awareness (addressing the physical, intellectual, and social dimensions).On Day 3 there was a large outside social event focusing on tobacco awareness and cessation featuring the Health Department's Wheel of Wellness. All proceeds went to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (which addressed the physical and social dimensions).Day 4 focused on stress management and featured a tai chi demonstration by faculty (addressing the emotional and spiritual dimensions), a blood pressure check by student nurses (addressing the physical dimension), and free massages from alumni from massage classes (addressing the physical and likely spiritual and emotional dimensions).

Amy Childs, counselor and director of Student Activities and Mentoring Services, termed the week a great success; "Wellness Week was welcomed by the whole campus. Students and college employees participated in these events that brought the campus together and that is an important part of building a well community" (personal communication, July 22, 2004).

Wellness programs are a college-wide initiative at the College of Southern Maryland and try to address the physical dimension of wellness. "The College of Southern Maryland understands that a student's wellness and well-being is an important part of their success both academically and in their contributions to the community at-large," said Sarah Merranko, assistant director of student life (personal communication, July 23, 2004). The college's Our Safe Community Center provides traffic safety information and drug and alcohol information. Additionally, the AIDS quilt is brought to campus for World AIDS Day. Tobacco education primarily is driven by students and includes information for both users and nonusers alike, provided by the college's tobacco education coordinator.

If there is one area that may pose a challenge for wellness educators at public institutions, it is providing programs to address spiritual wellness. This is often the result of narrowly defining spiritual programs as needing to be religious in nature. Ironically, addressing the spiritual side of wellness is often the key to motivating students to change behaviors. Hawks (2004) offers a Dynamic, Functional, Multidimensional Model of Holistic Health that recognizes spiritual health's role in overall wellness (see below). Providing programs to help students find meaning in their lives is the key to addressing the spiritual dimension. Some examples of programs to address the spiritual dimension include those related to ethics, civility, and values clarification, to name a few. This type of programming is valuable for traditional-aged students, who are often in the process of searching for their life's purpose, as well as nontraditional students, who may be assessing their life and reexamining its meaning.

Student activities programs usually provide health education programming for students. If your program is just getting started in expanding program offerings to encompass the broader wellness approach, there are some things you might consider. As with any program, setting program goals is helpful: What are the learning outcomes you hope to accomplish? Can you develop programs that provide education in more than one aspect of wellness? How will you assess that learning actually occurred? Another important consideration is the importance of collaboration in both the development of wellness programs and guaranteeing that an audience will attend. HCC utilizes a cocurricular minigrant to encourage the campus to collaborate on program ventures with many types of programs. It also is important to collaborate with community resources. The reality is that you never know where you may find a resource. Recently at HCC, a student employee's experiences resulted in the development of a minigrant for a program to address domestic violence, with the college's Contemporary Health class as the guaranteed audience. Now, the program is held in a venue that makes it available to the entire campus and greater community. Lastly, the method of program delivery is an important consideration. Social norming has become an important approach to introduce "healthy protective norms associated with the majority of the target population, dispelling perceived myths 'that everyone is doing it'" (Broderick, 2003, p. 13). For example, there is a perception that far greater numbers of students use tobacco products on the HCC campus than actually do. Publicizing the fact that 27 percent of students rather than 50 percent of them utilize these products helps students to make better life choices (HCC, 2004).

Because "Learning is a complex, holistic, multicentric activity that occurs throughout and across the college experience" (Keeling, 2004, p. 5), wellness programs have a significant role on campus. And, like other kinds of programs, assessment is essential to wellness programming efforts. While we may be more comfortable in measuring physical and intellectual progress, we may need to be more imaginative in measuring learning progress in other aspects of wellness. Self-reporting instruments such as short-answer surveys can provide information on learning outcomes as well as provide feedback for future wellness endeavors. Providing an incentive for the completion of the survey (or other assessment instrument) is a good strategy for generating a high response rate from students (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2004). Conducting these surveys on a regular basis can help determine programs' impact on changing student behavior and increasing wellness awareness.

Identifying the wellness dimension(s) addressed by a campus program can be quite easy and also incredibly difficult. Most programs relate to more than one dimension because the areas of wellness are so interrelated. Knowing how well a program addressed the physical dimensions can be a fairly easy task to measure (e.g., the number of health screenings conducted), whereas concrete knowledge that a program addressed the spiritual and emotional dimensions can be more difficult to ascertain. Programs are received by respective students in different ways, and it is the individual interpretation of the experience that is yet another important consideration in program assessment.

As far as a future perspective on wellness, Ardell (2001) cautions us about limiting our wellness definition to balance, asserting that no one knows what "proper balance is and how to achieve and maintain it" and "there is no evidence that it (balance) is possible or even desirable" (¶ 7). Ardell (2001) goes on to say that "balance is boring, dull, plain and a recipe for ordinariness" (¶ 9). He suggests that we "choose selective quests for excellence, which almost always require a devoted focus on one or more skill areas for a period of time" (¶ 11). Success in quests for excellence will nurture the spirit and act as a catalyst to motivate students to choose to make beneficial changes in their lives, with wellness as a lifelong journey rather than a destination.

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Updated Nov. 9, 2012