Students are seeking more well-rounded lifestyles to achieve greater physical, mental and emotional states. To meet this increasing need among students, rec centers are making well-being programs and services a priority.
Greg Jordan, the director of university recreation and well-being at Oakland University, believes well-being is more than just a trend. “Well-being is a verb, an action,” he said. “It’s an intentional choice for contributing to a healthy lifestyle.”
Up in Rochester, Michigan, Oakland has been paying attention to this trend for several years, even changing the name of its recreation department to better align itself toward an updated mission.
“We changed the name of our department from Campus Recreation to University Recreation and Well-Being in the 2015-2016 year,” said Jordan. “We feel this designation draws attention to well-being and sets a tone for that culture on campus.”
Campus-wide, well-being has become an extremely important initiative, according to Jordan. In fact, he shared the president of Oakland University has established healthy living as a major goal for this year. “We have developed a goal and a plan to be ‘The Healthiest Campus in Michigan,’” he said.
To help become the healthiest campus in Michigan, the department has produced several effective programs and services, including the well-being workshops in the Golden Grizzlies Lead program. A leadership program that educates students on several topics like networking, technology and job skills, Golden Grizzlies sees its highest engagement during well-being discussions.
“The well-being workshops are by far the most attended topics by students every semester,” said Jordan. “This is evidence that well-being is an important topic to our students.”
An open discussion about good well-being habits is critical to the development of a strong well-being culture on campus, so Oakland also integrated a wellness ambassador program to give students more well-being information and resources.
“A more robust peer wellness ambassador program has been developed and implemented on campus,” said Jordan. “This allows students to engage with their peers, to discuss and learn about both basic and sensitive health topics.”
It’s gone beyond just conversation, however. Oakland realized it needed a new position in the ranks, an individual specifically focused on generating positive well-being outcomes on campus.
After partnering with the school’s housing department, Jordan and his team were able to create a full-time student health and wellness coordinator position to deliver well-being programs for various on-campus demographics. According to Jordan, this position has very effectively met the campus-wide demand for more well-being services.
“It’s intentional programming for different groups and demographics,” said Jordan. “Instead of a one-size-fits-all model, more programs are being tailored to the group requesting the program.”
The coordinator’s work has also drawn more attention to the rec center itself. “In addition to moving it to full-time, the position was physically moved from the health center to the rec center for more visibility and better opportunities to engage with students in a healthy, well-being environment,” said Jordan. “We find students are more likely to attend programs in the rec center rather than going to the health center.”
The health and wellness coordinator is also able to deliver programs for students where they’re at, even if they are not in the rec center. “We are doing more programs out on campus and meeting students in spaces where they are living, meeting or are more comfortable,” said Jordan.
As the industry evolves in its ability to provide more diverse resources for students, Jordan has seen several developing trends in how rec centers are educating students on well-being:
However, one major trend is the pairing of traditional health education resources with campus recreation. “In the campus rec world, peer health educators are becoming a thing,” said Jordan. “In the past, they haven’t been associated with recreation programs as frequently as they are now. With more health and well-being staff moving into rec departments, more rec departments are taking the lead on growing a peer health educator program for the whole campus.”
In essence, many rec centers are becoming the epicenter of well-being for the entire campus, not just consistent participants in the recreation programs. This opens the door for rec centers to establish themselves as an important campus resource beyond simply lifting weights.
Unfortunately, a persistent challenge to truly enhancing campus rec well-being is the lack of an established authority on the subject in the industry. “Many recreational sports departments are providing significant leadership in advancing the well-being culture within their institutions,” said Jordan. “However, there is no single model or organizational structure that has evolved as the standard.”
This means it’s up to each rec center to determine what works best for its student population. Until there is a one-size-fits-all answer, every department will likely have to undergo some trial and error.
Through the outreach of the health and well-being coordinator and other targeted programs, Oakland has found its programs achieve the best results when done on campus. “It works best on a campus — rec centers tend to have the right expertise, as well as the facilities and equipment,” said Jordan.
Another area in which Oakland has improved its well-being offerings is catering to the campus faculty and staff. Over the past decade, the rec center has put more of an effort into encouraging staff members to use the rec center, most notably with rec center membership for faculty.
“What started as ‘Shape Up OU’ in 2008 has transformed into membership to the recreation center,” said Jordan. “It’s now a fringe benefit to employees who qualify for health insurance through Oakland University. We have seen an increase in employee usage of the rec center from under 10 percent to now over 40 percent.”
Completely meeting the needs of the entire campus is a characteristic of Oakland’s rec center Jordan is proud of. “Oakland University is unique because our recreation program intentionally serves both students, as well as faculty and staff,” he said.
To help improve the quality of life for everyone on its campus, Oakland’s recreation department has evolved over the past few years. And as campus well-being needs continue to evolve, so will Oakland rec center’s offerings.
“The mission of university recreation and well-being is to offer programs, services and facilities that foster student development, creates a connection to Oakland University, and motivates our community toward a life-long commitment of well-being,” he said. “What’s important is that new well-being initiatives, programs, services and facilities are always being established.”