Student Well-being: Unpacking the Puzzle Pieces

student well-being

Will Evans discusses student well-being and unpacks the many puzzle pieces that contribute to overall health and wellness.

“Hope all is well” — the quintessential opening and/or closing line to most emails, especially in the year 2020. We toss the phrase out so much that most of us do not even bother responding to it. It has become an obligatory nicety, however, to take a moment to pause and think about what it means.

Hoping that all is well is a lot to unpack. Many different things can affect overall well-being. Any component can affect the whole. This is true of our students, too. If one part of their well-being is suffering, it can influence how they live out other aspects of health and wellness, including going to the campus recreation center.

Well-being in Story Sharing

One of most difficult things about student well-being is it is multi-faceted. Popular models compete with each other on how many dimensions make up well-being, ranging from as few as six to as many as nine, if not more. Each dimension is connected to the next. If one is altered, it creates a ripple effect in the rest. For example, think about how an unexpected expense — a.k.a. financial wellness — affects your emotional wellness. However, no matter how many dimensions you choose to subscribe to, this web of interconnectedness has a hidden benefit.

Since the factors that influence well-being are so intertwined, it means you can use different dimensions to increase your ability to share the story of how you impact students. Even if you do not focus on all the dimensions of well-being, they can all help you prove your worth.

Take intramurals for example. The obvious facet of student well-being involved is physical wellness, but with a few simple questions you can gather powerful data to further your cause. Consider what else is involved here — social wellness, environmental wellness and emotional wellness. A simple question asking if intramurals helped improve participants’ social connection suddenly helps you explain how you better social well-being on campus, which is a strong indicator of retention of graduation.

You can do this with almost any pre-existing recreation program. For example, climbing and challenge courses have physical, environmental and social well-being components; club sports has financial, social and physical well-being. Reading up on some simple well-being scales and models could help you advance your campus value.

Well-being in Collaboration

Another benefit of the interconnected nature of well-being is that it creates opportunity to unite and promote the missions from different campus partners. You can use this to create promotion collaboration, integrated program design and inter-departmental strategies. College campuses can become cities of silos as we all push forward in our own work. Well-being can serve as a uniting force when partnership is needed. Talk with your counseling center about promoting exercise as a coping strategy, or invite a counselor help lead the closing meditation of a yoga class.

Increase financial wellness by asking your financial aid office or College of Business to present over budgeting as a professional development topic for your student employees. Partner with your center for career opportunities and host resume reviews to encourage occupational wellness. If you can get other campus partners to inherit and back the unifying outcome of well-being, then you can create powerful partnerships.

Well-being Begets Student Well-being

These initiatives might seemingly appear unrelated at first, but as you zoom out they form of a larger, trickle-down effect that is stopping students from using your facilities. According to the results of the Spring 2020 National College Health Assessment roughly 11 to 20% of all students reported their academics being negatively impacted by career, finances and stress respectively. If recreation centers support academic success by reducing these barriers through active collaboration, it may help students find more time to use their facilities. Greater facility use can, in turn, support academic success.

It may also deter student worker turnover. I am sure we are all familiar with students having to leave a position because the semester was too overwhelming. Providing students a space to explore the campus resources, which reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed, could have positive side effects for recreation centers.

Well-being is an interconnected topic. The way each piece affects the whole person is nuanced, beautiful, complicated and essential. Using the independent pieces to create a more unified campus and help provide more mental and physical opportunities for students to connect with resources — including the recreation center — is meaningful work. How can you find ways to piece together the many pieces to create a complete picture?

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Will Evans is the assistant director for Health and Wellness Programs at Purdue Recreation and Wellness, where he leads well-being initiatives to better the holistic health of students. Through his work, he has collaborated with faculty and staff on innovative wellness apps, peer education, and health campaign ideas, the latter of which are published in the Journal of Communication in Health Care. Will is the current vice president of the Mid-American College Health Association and is a certified health and wellness coach.

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