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Six Degrees of Wellness

Students walking on campus

March 2017 | by Dawn Neuses '94


Should you spy someone walking briskly across campus, don't just assume they are dodging the Midwest cold or are late for class.

That's so 2012.

First, check their wrist. They could be feeding fast-paced steps into a newfangled fitness tracker or smartphone app.

Health is a high priority for St. Ambrose University students, faculty and staff these days-and the fact that something as mundane as taking a walk has gone high tech just might be among the reasons why.

There are other reasons, including the ever-growing population of SAU health science majors who are living and sharing the benefits of what they're learning. The availability of healthy and natural foods, drinks and snacks on campus may be another.

A major reason that wellness is big-and about to be bigger-for Ambrosians? How about the 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Wellness and Recreation Center growing right before our eyes on the north side of campus?

"This shows the university values the health and wellness of its students enough to significantly invest in a very large way," Taylor Kent '14, wellness coordinator for Campus Recreation, said of the new facility that is scheduled to open in time for fall classes.

The new building will serve multiple student needs: extracurricular wellness and recreation activities and athletics and academic programs. The new space also will allow for a wider range of cardio and strength training equipment, Kent said. Group fitness classes, such as yoga and cardio dancing, will no longer have to turn away students due to lack of space, she noted.

"It will be very nice to have a central hub for fitness and recreation," Kent said.

Enabling the physical well-being of students always has been a central piece of the St. Ambrose mission, but those efforts have expanded due to a greater understanding of all that being well truly encompasses.

Erica Thomas, a clinical instructor of Kinesiology, is deeply involved in the university's efforts to promote balance in six dimensions of wellness and well-being. They are:

> Emotional: dealing with stress, your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
> Physical: being physically active, eating healthy, taking care of your body.
> Social: interacting with people around you and developing relationships.
> Spiritual: finding meaning and purpose.
> Intellectual: engaging in creative and stimulating mental activities.
> Environmental: understanding your impact on nature and your personal environment.

"The dimensions we are working on have a lot to do with not only lifespan, but healthy lifespan," Thomas said.

To enhance the university's focus on these six dimensions, Thomas is leading a two-year pilot study called the Wellness Passport Program, enlisting an initial group of 30 first-year students. The program replaces required general education courses in wellness concepts and activities. Participants must earn 100 Passport points through participation or attendance in events, activities or programs.

Passport Program outcomes will be compared to those students who completed the general education requirements. "We are open to whatever the results are, and we will move forward accordingly," Thomas said.

First-year student Adam Mayber said he already is feeling the benefits of the program's wider wellness focus and is confident that he and fellow Passport Program participants will have stronger outcomes in the end.

"When people talk about wellness, they discuss the physical aspect. ‘Are you exercising? Are you eating right? Well if you are, you are well.' But there are many forms of wellness," he said. "You can be physically fit but still be unwell."

Thomas said St. Ambrose is in the lead on the fitness frontier. The university wants its students to be well individuals, "not only when they are here, but to give them skills and tools they can use after graduation to help them be happy and healthy adults," she said.

Ways St. Ambrose Promotes the Six Dimensions of Wellness

Emotional: Feeling Well

"What students have going on in their emotional lives drastically affects their academic success," said Amy Scott, director of the St. Ambrose Counseling Center.

Taking a test, completing a group project or speaking in class may be difficult for a student who struggles with anxiety. A student who is depressed may not have the motivation to complete assignments.

"Who am I? What is my identity?' Love, religion and political ideals," Scott said, citing questions for which students seek answers. "All of those things have an impact on academic success. Students are very willing to let other people in and to tap into the resources available, and that makes them a real resilient population."

Spiritual: Listening Well

"Our spirituality is a key part of who we are, of our wholeness and balance, and helps us answer the question, ‘Why am I here?'" said Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, director of faith formation in Campus Ministry.

Campus Ministry provides students of all faiths numerous means of achieving spiritual wellness, including the twice-a-year Busy Student Retreat. Students who participate complete 30 minutes of prayer and have a 30-minute meeting with a spiritual guide each day for four days. The guides are from outside campus and usually include religious leaders.

"The guides help them listen to where God is active in their lives," Norcross-Reitzler said. "Students have said they were really pleased they took the time and surprised at how rewarding it is when they pay attention."

Physical: Eating Well

Physical health requires healthy eating and SAU food service provider Sodexo is doing all it can to help. Steve Finn, Sodexo's general manager on campus, said Sodexo's focus at SAU is on creating menus based on wellness and balance.

Sodexo's branded concept, Mindful, ensures the campus has ample access to healthy foods-such as fresh fruit, steamed vegetables and baked fish-as well as information about a balanced plate. In the cafeteria, foods marked with the Mindful logo help students identify healthier options. Using a smartphone app, diners have the ability to immediately check the nutritional information of the entrees and sides they choose.

A registered dietician works with Sodexo to create the wellness menus, and the goal is to give students options and information, Finn said.

Social: Playing Well

"The social dimension of wellness is where students can find the widest range of options," said Jason Richter, SAU's director of student engagement.

The university is home to more than 80 clubs and organizations that give students opportunities to meet others, create friendships, share ideas, work together and impact the world. Some organizations, such as SAU Dance Marathon, embrace a mission that has roots in multiple dimensions.

More than a third of SAU students participate in one or more club or organization. "By interacting with others, you grow that deeper sense of connection with the university. It comes, not because you are involved in something, but because you connected with friends or a member of the faculty or staff. Building those relationships is key," Richter said.

Intellectual: Thinking Well

Learning new things and being challenged in class adds to the overall wellness of St. Ambrose students, Thomas said. But learning extends beyond the classroom with a multitude of opportunities.

For instance, the series of lectures, conferences, performances and concerts scheduled as part of this year's Shakespeare-focused academic project provides opportunities to learn something new, reframe perspectives or gain insight into culture, art, spirituality and history.

Students can also build intellectual wellness when they work with a professional mentor through the Career Center, ask for feedback on a class paper from a peer at the Student Success Center, or take advantage of the many events hosted at the library.

Environmental: Sustaining Well

"The easiest way to think about this dimension is through efforts such as recycling or policies that impact our environment," Thomas said.

Passport Program member Mayber said that was his first impression, too. "But, I came to realize it is more about interacting well with the environment, meeting new people and doing good things for the surrounding area," he said. "It is about getting out into the community and contributing, making a positive impact."

He, and hundreds of other SAU students, do that on a regular basis by participating in various community service projects, most of them starting on their first day of college with Urban Plunge. Organizations such as GreenLife and Habitat for Humanity promote this dimension as well.

Mayber believes the university's comprehensive focus on wellness makes St. Ambrose a leader in the promotion of student well-being.

"Many colleges only focus on one or two aspects of wellness, such as physical and social. Here, the focus is on all six dimensions. The program is all about being well-rounded. It is a very innovative approach to making us more healthy on campus," he said.

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