Navigating Wellness Partnerships

navigating wellness partnerships
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“I recently accepted a job doing wellness work for an academic college.”

The response I’ve received is typically a confused face.

That is typically the response from folks with whom I interact when I share this recent career transition. And honestly, that confused face was my reaction when I initially saw the position post last fall.

If academic colleges are now moving in the direction of hiring their own internal wellness staff – and in the case of my academic college, renovating space to serve as a independently managed satellite fitness facility – what does that mean for wellness for the larger university community?

It means more opportunity for partnerships and an expanded reach for effectively creating a culture of wellness on your campus.

Because most things occur in waves within the university setting, my suspicion is that this trend of “satellite wellness” on college campuses will continue proliferate on mid- to large-sized university campuses.

As someone who came from doing wellness work serving campuses of between 30,000 to 55,0000-plus students, I can now say I’ve navigated partnerships from central campus and from the satellites. Here is what I’ve gleaned on embracing and leveraging this emerging trend no matter where your current role in campus wellness falls:

Prioritize Relationship Building

Did I mention Relator is my No. 1 strength according to StrengthsFinder? For those of you who are unfamiliar with StrengthsFinder, the Relator theme is all about forming deep, meaningful relationships with others — and that deep meaningfulness is the name of the game when it comes to maximizing partnerships.

It would have been easy to come into my new role and formulate my own definition of wellness and create my own framework, messaging and so on. However, I made it a priority to reach out to partners on central campus who do work even tangentially related to wellness. Even if there was no immediate initiative that came about as a result of that initial meeting, taking that time to put a face and a name together and establish that rapport is a great foundational step.

But don’t stop there; continue to massage those relationships and learn as much as you can about both the person and their position — in terms of their role and their philosophy on wellness and student success.

Practice Intentional Partnership and Collaboration

Students don’t see departments; they only see the institution. That said, they can feel when two or more units who should be working together within the university are so disconnected that it creates inefficiencies, duplication or worse: competition.

Take the time to understand first the scope of what each party’s respective unit does and can offer, and then consider defining a joint purpose statement for the partnership that illuminates what a culture of wellness looks like given this added capacity to actualize the vision. Then, reflect on what an effective partnership looks like from all sides given the joint purpose identified.

Once you’ve got that down, consider how you can leverage resources – physical and otherwise – to create maximum impact for the most students. Academic colleges have a very different reach than student affairs/student support; this reach is a critical extension and can be a game changer when fully leveraged.

Plan for Pinch Points

As with any new relationship, there are bound to be growing pains.

Name one healthy relationship that has come to be so without challenges.

Here’s a hint: such a relationship does not exist.

Acknowledge the challenges as they arise and accept them as part of the journey. Challenges are not a sign to throw the endeavor or partnership by the wayside; rather, they are an indication that change is on the horizon. We all navigate change differently, and this is where your commitment to establishing a meaningful relationship first comes in handy. That added insight into your new wellness partner will help you navigate the challenges in a way that is more conducive to preserving both the relationship and collaboration.

Angelica Harris
Originally a native of Buffalo, NY, Angelica "Angie" Harris (She, Her, Hers) is a certified health and wellness coach and serves as the assistant director of wellness. Angie received her B.A. in sociology from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and her M.A. in higher education administration from the University of Maryland, College Park. Angie currently serves as the Wellness Specialist for the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. She is passionate about using her skillset to facilitate reflection, provide empowerment, and inspire action with her students and clients. as well as using her experience creating and building successful and thriving wellness programs and interventions to help other colleges and universities do the same.

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