The Pursuit of Wellness


Wellness has surpassed “buzzword status” on campuses nationwide. Rising student stress levels and a growing appreciation for emotional and physical balance have resulted in unprecedented focus on this area’s amenities and programs.

Despite energetic support, one key challenge to improving wellness on campus remains the issue of self-selection bias. That is, those who are on top of their well-being are more likely to opt into programs that support healthy lifestyles. Providing more inclusive wellness requires higher visibility and easy, intuitive access to programs throughout campus, which many schools are doing in new and innovative ways:

Meeting Students Where They Are

The Penn State Altoona Adler Complex, which originally housed athletics and recreation in an introverted 1970’s-era building, was recently retrofitted with a two-story glass entryway and floor-to-ceiling windows to provide views into activities within. And a new academic addition further integrates wellness into the experiences of a broader campus constituency that otherwise might not seek it out within the Adler Complex’s offerings.

Informal gathering spaces can also be a powerful conduit for more subconscious wellness building. At Dartmouth College, the House Pilot Centers are a testing ground for social engagement to be defined by students themselves. Open floorplans provide furniture, snack bars, outdoor fire pits and other gathering-oriented amenities. Here, students do yoga, attend lectures and events, lounge with friends, or study informally. These free-form spaces for individual repose and group social activities encourage integration of holistic mind-body wellness into everyday lifestyles.

Creating Broad-based Feedback Loops

Input from diverse stakeholders can help to shape design and programming in line with needs. Monica Verity, Wellesley College’s director of recreation, emphasizes “cross campus partnerships have been integral to our wellness programming and student engagement. Our Wellness Outreach Collaborative connects many departments across campus to provide financial and administrative resources that have enabled us to expand our programming and participation each year.”

The University of Colorado also subscribes to that philosophy and has made big moves to connect new partners: their Anschutz Student Health and Wellness Center, and medical school are now integrated, outfitted with clinical and medical research labs, a fitness center, and dining areas. Staff include professional dietitians, nutritionists and counselors. Results from these labs provide immediate feedback to inform and improve offerings. Moreover, by incorporating mental health support into the medical school, the university communicates a stance that mental health is physical health.

The opportunities for programmatic and design integration in wellness are expansive and exciting. As exemplified by the leading-edge initiatives profiled here, it will take experimentation, listening and coordination on campuses to get the mix of strategies right; and there are still countless untapped ways of improving wellness with all populations — not just those who enthusiastically opt-in.


Bill Massey is a principal architect and sports practice leader at Sasaki. He can be reached at Visit for more information.

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