Wellness and the Liberal Arts: Educating the Whole Person at Drury

By Mark Miller

Education and exercise have been intertwined for thousands of years. The Greeks, who laid the groundwork for Western thought, were also known for their athletic contests and founded the Olympics. More recently, Roger Bannister was a medical student in England when he became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. Today, exercise, in the form of major college athletics, is a billion dollar industry. The Greeks, Bannister and today's student-athletes have one thing in common: they are all competitive athletes. But exercise, and the concept of wellness, can have a role in the lives of all students, faculty and staff at Drury.

In May 2010, the Drury Board of Trustees adopted a sixth strategic goal, "To improve the health and well-being of our most valuable resources (student, faculty and staff), we will cultivate a culture of wellness throughout the University community." That statement formalized Drury's commitment to educating the whole person, but Drury has been promoting a "culture of wellness" for years.

What's Been Done?

Three years ago, Drury hired former Panther basketball standout Matt Miller '01, MBA '03 as director of wellness. During that time, Miller, in response to student requests, has improved the Barber Fitness Center with upgraded weight training and cardio equipment, as well as air conditioning and flat screen televisions. Plus, he initiated a wellness program for faculty and staff. For $25 a month, employees can sign up to take a variety of classes ranging from the intense core abs workout to the more serene yoga and tai chi sessions. There are even monthly healthy cooking classes. "The offerings are fantastic," says Andrea Longley, accounts payable coordinator at Drury. "It's great to blow off some steam. It's forced me to get up from my desk."

New this semester for those enrolled in the Drury Wellness Program is one free massage per month at the Professional Massage Training Center on Commercial Street. Additionally, President Parnell has challenged faculty and staff, whether they're in the wellness program or not, to get moving with the President's Walking Challenge. The first 50 to sign up received a free pedometer with a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. At the end of the semester, participants will tally their steps and the individual who walks the most will earn a prize and will get to keep the high tech pedometer. Thanks to wellness initiatives like these, faculty and staff all over campus are choosing to be healthier, one step at a time.

"When faculty and staff set a good example, that speaks to students. They're not just telling students to be healthy; they're actually doing it," says Dr. Kathy Carroll, chair of exercise and sports science. Ultimately, the wellness program hopes to impact Drury students.

To graduate, students are required to take two physical education classes: Fit for Life and an activity course. Fit for Life focuses on lifetime wellness (fitness, diet, disease prevention) and the activity class ranges from marathon training to racquetball to yoga.

One of the most popular activity classes is karate. Dr. Amy C. Lewis, associate professor of management, steps out of the Breech School of Business several times a week donning a gi and black belt to teach students the finer points of Shotokan karate. "In Western thought there is a mind-body dualism, but it's all one; it's all connected," says Lewis. "Anything we can do that leads to a longer, healthier life for our students is something we should do. Employers face problems such as increased insurance costs when faced with an obese and unhealthy workforce. There is plenty of research on productivity, salary and lifetime earnings showing that those who embrace wellness are likely to be more prosperous than those who don't care for their bodies."

Student Wellness Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

Fun and fitness met head-to-head at the Quidditch tournament on campus last fall.

Photo gallery:
Quidditch at Drury

Drury offers classic intramural sports such as flag football, soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball, but this past fall the intramurals department organized a one-day Quidditch tournament that attracted six teams and hundreds of spectators. This sport, born from the pages of the Harry Potter books, has been a hit with college students around the country as they run astride brooms, flinging quaffles and bludgers, and chasing the human snitch. "What's great about activities like the Quidditch tournament is that it's a way for students to gather that isn't centered on alcohol," says Carroll. "So much of wellness is social. We do things with friends; that's why we come back and participate again."

Another wellness initiative blended fitness with sustainability: the bike loan program. At the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, Campus Wellness and the President's Council on Sustainability loaned out 40 new mountain bikes to students. The idea was to promote a healthy form of transportation while reducing the number of students who drive to get around campus. The loan program achieved all three goals. "I went everywhere with the bike," says Thomas Paul, an international MBA student from Germany. "I don't have a car here, and I don't want one."

Amanda Martin '11 also took part in the bike loan program. The music education major from Topeka, Kansas, isn't a fan of going to the gym, but she rode her bike to and from class, "I was on time more often. It (riding the bike) helps me clear my mind, and I always feel better after I do it," Martin says. The bike program expanded to 45 bicycles in the spring 2011 semester.

The Future of Wellness at Drury

The Drury community has a good base as it works to "walk the walk" when it comes to cultivating a culture of wellness at the university. Miller has adopted a fivepronged strategy called "Five to Thrive" for the future of wellness at Drury. The five components of the program are:

Eat Well
Exhale (de-stress)

Eat Well entails healthy menu choices in the Commons and CX, fewer trans fats, better choices in the campus vending machines and more cooking classes.

The Exercise portion of the plan focuses on the continuation and expansion of exercise classes with an eventual goal of renovating Weiser Gymnasium into an improved fitness center.

Exhale emphasizes stress-reducing activities such as massage and yoga and communicates counseling opportunities available through human resources and mental health services available to students through the Department of Student Affairs.

Educate involves collaboration with one of the best-known health systems in the country: the Cleveland Clinic. In fall 2010, 40 Drury sophomores participated in a pilot stress management program. The students took online classes through the Cleveland Clinic that focused on stress management techniques. The students also took part in classes through Drury Wellness such as tai chi, yoga, massage and acupuncture.

Engage is about building a Drury "wellness community" through development of a website containing tips and information on how to live a healthier lifestyle. Engage also involves group activities centered on wellness such as a community bike ride.

Why Wellness?

Cultivating a culture of wellness isn't only good for students' physical health, but it might make them better students.

According to a 2001 study of students at a large public university in the southwest, freshmen who used the student recreation center had a higher retention rate and higher grade point averages than those who did not use the facility.

Beyond the day-to-day physical well-being of students, faculty and staff, a good reason for Drury to promote wellness comes back to this portion of Drury's vision statement, "…educate students to become engaged, ethical and compassionate citizens for servant leadership in communities characterized by change, complexity and global interdependence." That's already happening.

Deidre Rosel '10 is a former Drury swimmer, a graduate education student and a triathlete. While exercising in the Barber Fitness Center, Rosel relayed this story about student teaching at an elementary school in the fall of 2010: "The obesity rate there was incredibly high for these little kids I was teaching. When I'd talk about running or swimming with them you could see them getting excited and they'd get interested and say, 'I wonder where I could go swim?' We'd run races on the playground. I want to teach little kids that exercise and being active is super important."

That is a compassionate citizen exhibiting servant leadership in a community by cultivating a culture of wellness.