Since a young age, I have been passionate about being physically active and including others. Throughout my time in undergraduate and graduate schools, I’ve combined these two passions to develop, gain support, and implement creative solutions that work to make a healthy and wellness-centered lifestyle more accessible to my community.
During the three years I served as a Community Advisor (CA; like Residential Advisor, but more focus on community building), I developed and executed two campus-wide undertakings that promoted wellness.
The first undertaking was a specialty on-campus housing option that focused on promoting a healthy lifestyle. The Student Wellness Optimal Living Environment (SWOLE) served as a compromise between standard, substance-free, and quiet housing options. Among the goals, I developed community guidelines:
- Engage in dorm events that focused on developing positive physical, mental, and emotional wellness.
- Promote earlier weekend quiet hours so students could practice good sleep hygiene after an evening of studying or socializing.
- Encourage safe drinking practices for those of age who chose to engage.
I developed a proposal and submitted my concept to the Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of Campus Life. The idea was very popular with my peers, gaining three times the number of required signatures for consideration. The proposal was adopted and we were assigned to a substantially larger dorm than typical for these types of housing options. Since then, my proposed dorm has been incorporated as a permanent housing option. While the name has since changed, it is among the most popular, non-standard housing options currently offered.
The second undertaking was a petting zoo that I hosted as a Dorm Event. It started as a fun idea to bring animal therapy to students during the busy mid-term season as a stress relief event. It quickly blossomed into an annual campus wide event. The event required me to work with various heads of departments, campus groups, and local businesses, and drew the greatest attendance of any Dorm Event during each of the three years it was held.
During the second year of my PhD, I was struck by a car while cycling. During that time, my injuries and concussion got between me and my physical, emotional, and mental health. When I recovered, I became dedicated to making sure my peers had the tools available to counteract the health concerns associated with graduate school.
In particular, I was surprised to learn that according to a 2017 study published in Research Policy, nearly a third of all grad students will experience psychological distress, and half are at risk of developing a common psychiatric disorder (anxiety, depression, social isolation) [link]. These challenges may be new, the same, or magnified from those faced during their time in undergraduate as the stakes become higher and people become more isolated in their academic niches.
In 2015, I developed an exercise club and called it Astronaut Training. It aimed to promote physical, mental and emotional health through social group exercise, all under the whimsical guise of training for an upcoming NASA mission. In 2018, I wrote a proposal for the University to incorporate the club, making it an officially sanctioned group. Around the same time, I also earned my Group Fitness Instructor certification and merged my classes with Brown Recreation’s group fitness program where I continued to lead our twice-weekly classes up to the COVID-19 pandemic. Astronaut Training continues to grow in my absence and welcomes everyone, regardless of age or ability.
Incorporating Astronaut Training into Brown Recreation’s fitness program posed an immediate challenge, since fitness class passes cost $95 per student for the year–prohibitive for many students on a budget. As part of my Graduate Community Fellowship focused on Health and Wellness, I set out on a University-wide campaign to eliminate this financial barrier. Thanks to the Fellowship budget, the Graduate Student Council, the Medical Student Senate, and a community-crowned 1st prize at the Brown Student Agency Inspire Award, we were able to raise enough capital to pay for all Graduate and Medical students to receive free group fitness passes in the 2019-2020 academic year. Here’s the recorded presentation I gave to gain the Brown community’s support:
After the first semester, I worked with two fellow Astronaut Trainees doing their doctoral dissertations in the School of Public Health to analyze the initiative’s utilization. Our goal was to determine if there was a relationship between free classes and increased engagement. We found a 4x increase in unique participants and classes attended among Graduate and Medical students vs. Undergraduate students, and an 8x increase in overall engagement over the prior two years. This was corroborated by accounts from other instructors who noticed a marked shift in class makeup from undergraduate students to graduate and medical students. I also worked with Brown Recreation to develop an informational brochure to provide information on ways to prevent overtraining and the classes that were offered [link]. Together, these qualitative and quantitative metrics demonstrated the initiative’s effectiveness.
Separately, as part of my Graduate Community Fellowship, I organized a Wellness month for the Graduate community. This included talks from Brown Wellness (BWell), a collaborative international dance fitness event with other Graduate Community Fellows, and several “Heavy Petting”/dog therapy events on the Main Green for the whole community to enjoy.
I was also selected to serve at the University level on the Campus Life at Brown (CLAB) subcommittee for Athletics and Physical Education and on the Student Health and Wellness Advisory Committee (SHWAC). In both, I advanced Graduate student interests on the various topics covered at the University-level.
Finally, during Summer 2019 I partnered with Brown Dining Services to create a culinary workshop that taught Graduate students how to cook healthful, budget-friendly meals. The goal here was to provide students with important life skills to fuel and care for ourselves in Graduate school, and prepare us for a healthier, more nourished life. Since establishing this collaboration, the 2019-2020 Graduate Community Fellow for Family-Friendly programming has taken this over.