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Wake Forest campus launches well-being initiative
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Wake Forest campus launches well-being initiative

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RALEIGH — Wake Forest University is joining a few other campuses nationally in starting a new initiative dedicated to the well-being of students, faculty and staff that goes beyond academic performance and into physical, spiritual and other realms.

The school launched the initiative, called Thrive, on Friday and has hired a director of well-being, who starts work next month. Thrive includes eight markers of well-being: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual.

The initiative is something more than trying to ensure students, faculty and staff are happy, said Penny Rue, vice president of campus life at WFU. It's about trying to help students find meaning and purpose, not happiness.

"We're looking for something a little deeper than that," Rue said.

The initiative "demonstrates the university's commitment to people as whole people, not just their intellectual development," said Malika Roman Isler, who begins her job as Wake Forest's first director of well-being Oct. 1.

"Students are busier than ever with competing priorities. Campus leaders trying to address these high levels of stress and being able to more effectively deal with it," Isler said. "They're also dealing with evolving the feeling of belonging to a community. Campuses across the board are recognizing that's going to be important to building health college communities."

The well-being initiative that's starting on college campuses is based in research that began about 15 years ago and that businesses have used for years as the basis for hiring and exercises such as team-building, said Charles Walker, psychology professor at St. Bonaventure University.

A study released earlier this year by Gallup, working with Purdue University and the Lumina Foundation, found that where students went to school mattered less to well-being in post-college lives than other things, such as whether they had a professor who encourage them to pursue their dreams or if they worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete. The Gallup-Purdue Index included interviews with more than 30,000 college graduates.

Wake Forest isn't the first university to invest in well-being. St. Bonaventure University has a program, and George Mason University started the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being in 2009.

The Wake Forest program is voluntary with tips for each marker available online. For example, environmental well-being includes information on recycling, but also about the table tennis and other games available at an outdoor plaza on campus. The physical well-being link includes information about opportunities to exercise.

Wake Forest will provide 46,000 square feet of flexible space for fitness programming and gatherings by adding two stories to Reynolds Gym. The first things students give up when they start college are eating right, sleeping and exercising — "the three things most likely to help" maintain well-being, Rue said.

The school also plans to research student and alumni well-being over time, a study that Wake Forest says will be the first of its kind. The Gallup-Purdue Index says that no college or university has researched whether their graduates have great jobs and great lives.

Brooke Metz of Atlanta, a junior at Wake Forest, is a member of the leadership team for a Christian group on campus; plays the violin in the university orchestra; tutors at the writing center; and is an intern in the communications department at the law school. She hopes Thrive will teach how not to put as much pressure on herself.

"Stress and pressure are present on every campus, and Wake Forest students are very high achievers," she said.

That includes stress that students put on themselves, she said. "It's good to know Wake Forest wants us to think about ourselves as a whole person," Metz said.

June Gruber, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and director of the positive emotion and psychopathology laboratory, said a campus focus on well-being is worthy but that schools should use caution in setting up such initiatives.

"As human beings, we encounter a lot of different situations in our everyday life, and not every situation calls for promoting well-being or fostering happiness," she said.

And an individual's emphasis on happiness can cause the opposite emotion, she said. "The more you try to pursue happiness as an end goal, paradoxically, the less happy you are," Gruber said.

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