WVU Campus Rec: Innovation in the Face of Disruption

WVU Campus Rec

WVU Campus Rec created Field REC and Refresh activities during the fall of 2020. Alexandria Webb shares the ins and outs of these offerings.

During March 2020 in Morgantown, West Virginia, the feeling of life being put on pause was not lost to the Mountaineers at West Virginia University (WVU). Especially when the Student Recreation Center was forced to shut its doors. WVU Campus Recreation knew they needed to be prepared for a future that would look different, so they got busy.

WVU Campus Rec Pivots

The department strives to provide students with the tools and resources they need to live a healthy lifestyle. At WVU, Mountaineers go first. That is exactly what WVU Campus Rec and the Office of Student Wellness wanted to help them do. This meant coming to the students spread out across our Evansdale, Downtown and Health Sciences campuses. We provided virtual and in-person spaces, and created options for those who felt like there were none. This came in the form of:

  • Shipping containers modified to provide exercise and craft equipment
  • Ice cream bikes delivering wellness kits
  • Opportunities, pop-up fitness events, virtual activities and small group activities.

With the real home of Campus Recreation — the Student Recreation Center — closed down, wellness and recreation leaders took the opportunity to become more innovative. How could they reach students?

“A lot of it derives from how spread out our campus centers are,” said Andy Darling, the director of WVU Campus Recreation. “Half of our population lives or works on the Downtown campus with the remainder on what’s known as the Evansdale campus or the Health Science campus. Our Rec Center and fields are located on Evansdale campus, and it’s difficult for us to serve the other two areas just due to transportation logistics.”

Group fitness, which includes workouts like BodyAttack, BodyPump, Yoga, F45 and more, has moved to Zoom for virtual connection among students, as well as pop-up events. Intramural Sports events like esports tournaments have become vital to students looking for competition from the comfort of home. Singles tennis experienced its highest enrollment ever. Things like outdoor fitness classes and a new disc golf course have become essential for not only students’ physical health, but their mental health as well.

Reaching Students with Innovative Activities

With that in mind, the Field Recreation Equipment Center (Field REC) and Refresh activities were born.

“We began looking into satellite spaces on [the Downtown and Health Sciences campuses] a few years ago, including space in existing buildings as well as the potential to use converted shipping containers near other field spaces,” said Darling. “When the unit on campus that typically programs much of our Welcome Week activities, including FallFest, was looking to create a modified and expanded experience during the pandemic, we jumped on board and partnered with them to create the Refresh series of activities.”

EXTRA CREDIT: Saint Joseph’s University found unlikely partnerships in unique spaces to provide programming opportunities.

The Refresh series is a seemingly never-ending list of virtual and in-person activities dedicated to allowing students to take a break and hit refresh:

  • By allowing for easy, online sign-up and limiting the amount of people allowed to register for one activity, WVU Campus Rec and the Office of Student Wellness are able to bring these fun and interactive activities to students across all campuses.
  • Not only are there online fitness events to sign up for, but also activities like at-home cooking or crafts, where students can reserve their activity kit and pick it up at a Refresh box — a modified shipping container — joining in a Zoom session later on to complete the activity with fellow students.

Two shipping containers were modified into Refresh boxes, one on the Downtown campus and the other on the Evansdale Fields, located on the Evansdale Campus. The latter became known as the Field REC. “The Field REC location serves as an activation site for Refresh as well as a place to manage our fields, check out fitness equipment and engage with Intramural participants,” explained Darling.

Checking Out Field Rec’s Fitness Equipment

With the fitness equipment stored in the Field REC, students can come and check it out for use on the surrounding fields. Students are able to complete their own workouts or follow along with the self-guided workout videos WVU Campus Rec uploaded to their website.

Equipment stored and available to use includes:

  • Core bags
  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Bosu balls
  • Bulgarian sandbags
  • Weighted EZ and straight bars
  • Yoga balls and more

 

Other Innovative Wellness Offerings

In some instances, the tools to living a healthy lifestyle come to students on wheels. Wellness comes in the form of two commercial vending bikes with a large cargo space on the back. They hold items and kits designed to bring students peace of mind while delivering an activity.

With things like “Nature Therapy” consisting of a DIY Planter Kit available for students to pick up from the Wellness on Wheels bike whenever it comes around, students can find peace of mind without planning it into their day.

EXTRA CREDIT: Recently, Stephen F. Austin State University hosted its seventh annual Kick Axe Wellness Challenge. Read about it.

“They’re what I keep calling ‘our Ice Cream Bikes’ since that’s how I see them used,” said Darling. “I want to recreate the feeling I had as a kid when I’d see an ice cream truck pull up and myself and every other kid would be ecstatic.”

And the staff supporting these programs makes a difference in their popularity. “This is a really clear example of an activity that is successful or not based on the people who staff and carry it out,” said Darling. “An engaged and friendly person peddling up on a bike can have a huge impact.”

WVU Campus Rec Overcomes Challenges

Just like with any attempt to create new or improved operations during these uncertain times, there have been some difficulties to overcome with these programs.

“Nothing’s free and at a time when there’s real concern about the institution’s financial stability, we need to make sure we have a good case for spending funds or need to secure alternative sources,” said Darling. “We worked with the unit on campus that manages some of our corporate sponsorships, including a contract with Coke. They were able to underwrite a big chunk of the costs and provided ongoing support … It’s really worked out well and provided a basis for the program without requiring a lot of seed money from state funds.”

The success of these innovative programs during the fall of 2020 ensured they would continue into Spring 2021. It also ensured WVU Campus Recreation has the opportunity to create things that will stick around after the pandemic.

EXTRA CREDIT: The ASU Fitness and Wellness team partnered with University Housing create well-being bags with the goal to target students who stayed in residence halls through final exams.

With WVU’s campus layout, one of the challenges they face is the difficulty some students may have to get to the Student Recreation Center. This has allowed recreation and wellness leaders to consider the possibility of having a permanent presence at more places to cater to the fuller student population. “I would say that the best solutions we come up with now are those that improve our future offerings versus only serving as a limited time modification,” said Darling. “For sure, we will engage in both, but the modified containers and bikes can have a really positive role in the future.”

Photography: Ben Powell – WVUGo Multimedia Producer

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Alexandria Webb is a senior at West Virginia University (WVU) and works as a writer/editor for WVUGo Media, which handles the marketing and communications for WVU Campus Recreation and other organizations. She will be graduating in May 2021, with a BA in English that includes a double emphasis in Creative Writing and Professional Writing and Editing. She plans to continue her career as a writer for West Virginia recreation organizations, as she is most passionate about content creation. She hopes her work will inspire people to focus more on the recreational opportunities in West Virginia, bringing more positive light to the state.

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