Since a young age, I have been passionate about being active and including others. Throughout my time in undergraduate graduate schools, I’ve combined these two passions in working to make a healthful 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 was a petting zoo that I hosted as a Dorm Event. What started as a fun idea to bring animal therapy to students during the busy mid-term season as a stress relief event, quickly blossomed into a campus wide event. The event drew the greatest attendance of any Dorm Event during each of the three years it was held.
The second undertaking was a specialty on-campus housing option that focused on promoting a healthful living environment. The Student Wellness Optimal Living Environment (SWOLE) served as a compromise between standard, substance-free, and quiet housing options. Among the goals, there were community guidelines in place to:
- Engage in dorm events that focused on developing positive physical, mental, and emotional wellness.
- Promote a quiet space to return to after a night of studying or socializing for improving sleep hygiene.
- Encourage safe drinking practices for those of age who chose to engage.
The housing option has since been incorporated as a permanent housing option and is among the most popular, non-standard housing options currently offered.
During the second year of my PhD, I was struck by a car while cycling. I suffered a severe concussion and extensive soft tissue damage that left me a charismatic vegetable for the majority of a year. During that time, my injuries, concussion, and post-concussive syndrome symptoms 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 challenges they faced.
As I learned more about the more global challenges graduate students (sans automobile injury) experience, I was struck 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.
Formally, the club Astronaut Training 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 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. While I have departed, Astronaut Training continues to grow and welcomes everyone, regardless of age or ability.
While I was pleased to bring Astronaut Training into a more central role, it’s incorporation into the Brown Recreation program posed a challenge. Up until that point, group fitness passes cost $95 per student for the year. As part of a Graduate Community Fellowship focused on Health and Wellness, I set out on a University-wide campaign to eliminate the financial barrier to the group fitness. 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 year. Here’s the recorded pitch I gave to win over the Brown community:
Over the first year we had data, Graduate and Medical student group fitness attendance experienced a 4-8x increases in engagement depending on the metric, demonstrating the effectiveness of making group fitness free for all students. With my Graduate Community Fellowship, I also organized a Wellness month for the Graduate community with talks from Brown Wellness (BWell), a collaborative international dance fitness event with other Fellows, and several “Heavy Petting”/dog therapy events on the Main Green for the whole community to enjoy.
In addition to my fitness initiative, 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). Here, I advanced Graduate student interests on the various topics covered.
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.