A way to help students stay well
Maintaining healthy habits while at college is not always easy. During my first year at the University of Mount Union (10 years ago already!), I remember feeling overwhelmed by the notion that I was "on my own." I thought I had to manage everything alone: balance my academics and work-study job; avoid the dreaded "freshman 15"; maintain relationships with family, a new roommate, and friends; manage my finances; participate in extracurricular activities; and get a good night's sleep in an unfamiliar residence hall. I didn't know that there was support for me on campus when I had trouble handling these issues — and I wish I had.
That's why I'd like to take time to share with parents how students can maintain their health (socially, physically, and mentally) while at St. Olaf. As the student wellness coordinator, I spend a majority of my time working with students on issues related to alcohol use and their general mental and emotional well-being. In addition, I also supervise the Wellness Center.
The Wellness Center, which is located on the main floor of Buntrock Commons, is separate from the college's Health Service. While Health Service provides students with on-campus access to a certified family nurse practitioner, the Wellness Center puts them in contact with one of 13 peer educators (PEs). These PEs — current sophomore, junior, and senior students who have a passion for health and helping others — each receive about 40 hours of training on how to talk with their peers about issues college students frequently struggle with (such as stress, relationship problems, alcohol use, and sexual health questions).
Students can come into the Wellness Center and talk to a peer one-on-one. Often PEs help students identify concerns in their lives and learn how to address these concerns in a healthy and productive matter. PEs also refer students to other on- or off-campus offices as needed, such as the Counseling Center, Health Service, or the Academic Support Center. The Wellness Center's welcoming environment and non-judgmental approach allows students to feel comfortable seeking support. Students can even chat with a PE online if they are uncomfortable or unable to speak to a PE in person.
The mission of the PEs is to promote awareness and educational programs on healthy lifestyle choices to St. Olaf students. Peer education has been proven to be one of the most salient ways to share information and influence healthy change in the college student population, and we've seen the effect of these programs on campus.
In addition to peer educating and advising, the Wellness Center also offers programs on a variety of health topics, including alcohol and other drug use; sexual health; mental health; and nutrition and physical health. The Wellness Center encourages personal responsibility and legal accountability in all choices involving alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. We believe the availability and utilization of harm-reduction and intervention services is essential to support students. Our programs are offered throughout the academic year and are open to all students. They can see what programs we're offering by checking out our event calendar.
While your students are certainly becoming more independent, they can take comfort in knowing that they are not expected to "do it all" on their own. The Wellness Center is here to support students throughout their college experience.
In each subsequent newsletter, I'll cover a topic that students commonly encounter during their college careers. I look forward to sharing with you a small piece of my life here on the Hill, and I hope to hear from you with any questions you may have.
Emily Virtue is the student wellness coordinator at St. Olaf College. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Mount Union and master's degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She can be reached at email@example.com or 507-786-3487.