The College Balancing Act
For the average student, running laps at Fike is probably the last thing on the mind. With so many academic activities, it is reasonably hard for anyone to imagine giving up thirty minutes of their time to get all sweaty lifting weights. After all, it's not like you're obese. Sure you could lose a couple pounds. Everyone could lose a couple pounds. But it isn"t like you"re scarfing down hamburgers with multiple sides of fries every time you've got a bit of extra down time. You even had a few carrots yesterday-and well, let's face it- studying for that calculus exam tomorrow should be the number one priority. Shouldn't it?
Since this is a typical thought process of students at Clemson, Director of Fitness Services and Programs at Fike Recreation Center, Susan Pope, and her Creative Inquiry team have been working on changing that attitude through the creation of the Clemson Wellness Program. The team is testing, designing and may permanently implement a program that will not only help students become healthier in terms of physical activity and nutrition, but will also help reduce the tension that comes with leading a stressful student life. And the best part? Becoming healthier will finally be a top priority since the Wellness Program will include class credit.
According to Pope, Clemson began thinking of this 11 years ago when many faculty members realized campus health was an important issue. "President Barker challenged some of the professors. He wanted us to come up with a way to make students both happier and healthier," Pope said. It was then that the idea for improving campus fitness was born, but it wouldn"t come to fruition until a Creative Inquiry team took it on eight years later.
Emily Pinner, a recent graduate and previous three year member of the team, said that helping the actual students in the class become more physically fit was not their original goal. "It didn't start as a wellness program. It was more of just an incentive for people to come here [Fike]." But both Pinner and Pope soon realized that instead of just advertising fitness, they needed to teach the students how to become healthier.
The team designed the wellness course, which teaches students about fitness in a number of ways-ranging from how to properly use gym equipment to learning how to manage stress and anxiety levels. "We want the class to be intimate. We want to be able to sit down with our students and say "Tell me what's been going on with your week. That's one drawback to a big institution like this. There aren't as many opportunities to work like that," Pope said. Pinner wants to help emphasize the resources that are available to the students may be struggling. Sometimes maintaining that 3.0 GPA becomes too overwhelming, and students start to fall into bad habits like unhealthy eating. "A lot of the time people don"t realize they're even living an unhealthy lifestyle," Pinner said.
Pinner also believes that relating to students at this time in their lives is very important. "We want to catch students at a time when they are making decisions about what to eat and what not to eat when they are first starting to make meals for themselves." She also discussed the importance of eating healthy in a world of heavily fried and buttered Southern cuisine. "We had a kid one time that came from the Netherlands and he was like "We never eat that much bread!"" Learning to address these cultural influences is crucial to helping initiate change. "We want to be proactive as opposed to reactive," Pinner said.
But isn't Clemson a jock school? It's hard to drive past Bowman without seeing at least five people chasing a Frisbee-no matter what the weather. Pope said that that's not exactly the case. "We brag here at Fike about how many people come through the doors each day, but guess what-if you look at the entire number of the student body we're not reaching very many. We've got a lot more work to do." Pope wants to make those people her intended focus. "They might not have a problem now, but in 20 years they might. All those chips and chicken salad will add up."
In the future, both Pope and Pinner hope to one day make this an actual accredited course for students from any major. Some ideas include designing this course to accompany the required freshman Library 100 class and tracking the progress of a student's health throughout their four years at Clemson. "We look at their grades-why don't we measure their health too?" Pope said. "You're going to be able to use this stuff your whole life. All these skills are applicable." It's time to start thinking about the future-of your career yes- but more importantly your body and your happiness as well.