After surveying students in April 2021, Ashland University’s Recreational Services found they were asking for programs and services that already existed.
“We also realized students are aware of ‘physical wellness’ as a dimension of wellness, but oftentimes they neglect or are unaware of the other six dimensions,” said Janel Molnar, the director of Recreational Services.
As such, at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, they launched the Wellness Bucket List. It was a 12-week program that consisted of a checklist of activities in all seven dimensions of wellness at Ashland. Students were challenged to complete four activities under each dimension. Such activities fell both within using the rec center and exploring other parts of campus.
- Spiritual Wellness: Attend a yoga class or explore the Prayer Garden.
- Occupational Wellness: Talk to a mentor or attend a volunteer event.
- Emotional Wellness: Use the massage chairs at the rec center or list out seven good things you did this week.
- Environmental Wellness: Follow the Sustainability Club or use a reusable water bottle for one week straight.
- Physical Wellness: Attend a Move Well Student Session or climb to the top of the rock wall.
- Intellectual Wellness: Go to see an international club speaker or go to a Life Skills 101 session.
- Social Wellness: Walk with a friend on the Eagle Well one-mile walking path or visit the rec center with a friend.
In addition, there was a weekly challenge. These included exploring a local park, creating or updating a LinkedIn account, and replacing dessert with a healthy option. The first 75 students who registered and completed the Wellness Bucket List received a free pair of athletic shoes, provided through the GEER Mental Health Grant.
The idea was to get out of the box and meet the needs revealed by students in the spring survey. “The student is ever-changing, and their needs and how they want their needs met is ever-changing as well,” said Molnar. “Take risks. Try out things that have never been done before.”
EXTRA CREDIT: Professionals in the industry predict what will be paramount in terms of campus recreation trends this coming year.
Another unusual program taps into the creative side at the University of Utah. April Pavelka, the fitness program manager, shared they offer a monthly Bob Ross Paint Along Night. For $10 to cover supplies, students come and follow along with a how-to-paint video from Bob Ross. “It’s a great way to get students in the rec center who may not come in otherwise,” she said.
Choosing Creative Programming
To stay on top of creative programming trends, Pavelka looks at fitness franchises and boutiques, as well as conducts formal and informal assessments. Recently, they renovated a studio to create a functional fitness space due to the industry trends. Also, how-to-videos have been provided based on survey results.
However, one thing that’s been driving her decisions in programming of late is the fact students are craving organic connection with each other. “If there’s any way we can get groups of students together and keep them coming back together, it helps foster a sense of belonging for their campus experience,” said Pavelka. “This might be as simple as encouraging fitness instructors to learn — and use — participants’ names in class, or creating a workshop series that builds off each other to encourage students to keep coming back with a cohort of people.”
Danielle Arens, the senior assistant director of Fitness and Wellness at DePaul University, has been seeing a similar trend with group fitness. She noted the industry is basically tailoring to two new freshman classes due to COVID-19. These are the students who are loving group fitness classes.
One program that’s been thriving is Pilates, specifically with the Merrithew Pilates Reformers. Arens said beginner classes help people feel comfortable. “It’s really such an awesome workout and it’s a huge thing in boutique fitness,” she said.
Keeping Current Programs Fresh
While getting creative with programming can mean bringing in something new, it can also mean refreshing something else. Arens said renaming classes can be a simple yet successful change — i.e. going from Muscle Work to Total Body Conditioning, and Circuit to Boot Camp. Also, having half-hour classes back-to-back allows students to decide if they want a full hour of group fitness, or to go spend 30 minutes on something else.
Molnar shared Ashland’s group exercise instructors keep classes fresh by offering themed classes once a week. Several that were held in Fall 2021 included “Pick a Card” High Intensity Circuit Training, “On Wednesdays We Wear Pink” Vinyasa Flow Yoga, “Poplaties” Pilates and “Blackout Butts and Guts.”
In terms of technology usage, Arens shared their digital exercise library in Google Drive has been successful. It was created during the pandemic and is full of exercises. Plus, there are slides with workouts for students as well.
In addition, QR codes on the machines have been a hit. Students can scan and find a video of a personal trainer demonstrating how to use the machine. It helps students overcome possible embarrassment of trying to figure out how to use the machine on their own and can decrease the chance of injury. “I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to be looking at a piece of equipment for more than 10 seconds, not knowing how to work it,” said Arens. “You can easily scan the QR code. No one saw you. You could be looking at your phone and no one will know you’re looking at the video because everyone’s on their phone.”
Meeting a New Generation
In order to meet each new generation of students, it is now going to take thinking outside of the box. For Pavelka, she’s assessing the areas of creative and environmental wellness to see what types of programming they can add. “Any program that gets students together, either individually or as a group, can support their development throughout their time in college,” she said.
EXTRA CREDIT: Who is this new generation? Learn more about Gen Z here.
And finally, like Arens’ group fitness class name changes or Molnar’s weekly themed classes, sometimes the little shift can be the most impactful.
“We can get caught up in the idea that a ‘program’ needs to be a big, grand, campus-wide event that impacts hundreds of students when we can also think of programming as small changes and offerings that create a more inclusive and welcoming environment, even if it just impacts a few students at a time,” said Pavelka.
Images courtesy of Ashland University, DePaul University and University of Utah.