Wellness programs work together for greater good

The ISU WellBeing program, led by Stephanie Downs, is housed in university human resources. The newly created student wellness department, directed by Mark Rowe-Barth, resides in the division of student affairs. But organizational charts are about the only things separating the two programs.

Ever since Rowe-Barth became Iowa State's first director of student wellness last August, he and Downs have been working together with one goal in mind: focusing on the holistic wellbeing of faculty, staff and students. The two aren't required to work together, but they choose to.

"It's not productive when the employee and student wellness programs work separately, in different silos," Rowe-Barth said. "We can't change our wellness culture if both programs are completely separate."

Plus, the two want the university's message to be similar.

"Our philosophical vision and goals are aligned because we want the employee and student wellness messages to be consistent," Downs said.

Similar concerns, different approaches

Downs and Rowe-Barth agree that the health concerns of employees and students aren't that different. For example, campus input, consultant reports and clinical visits show that many students, faculty and staff suffer from stress, anxiety and sleep issues.

"Faculty, staff, students -- we're all connected. We often have similar wellness issues and concerns, but they play out differently based upon our current life situation. That's why we may have different strategies for addressing these issues for specific outcomes, based upon the differing populations," Rowe-Barth said.

Downs and Rowe-Barth recently completed training on a body image project to help the campus community prevent eating disorders and develop positive body images.

"Body image affects everyone, not just students," Downs said. "But how we approach it with each group may be different."

This spring, Rowe-Barth plans to hire 27 student peer wellness educators who will be trained to help students with a variety of wellness concerns, including substance abuse, stress and body image, beginning next fall. And while that strategy may work well with students, Downs said student peer groups assisting other employees with protected health information could present privacy or legal issues.

"Flexibility is key when implementing wellbeing programs," Downs said. "We always have to think, 'how do we go about this so it isn't more harmful than helpful?'"

For employees, quick online access to wellness information is key. Downs is in the process of securing a new portal on the ISU WellBeing website that will allow employees to track their personal wellness goals, engage in interactive programs and retrieve information important to each individual. The portal will be rolled out later this summer.

Healthy employees, healthy students

Downs and Rowe-Barth agree that their close working relationship and Iowa State's focus on promoting a culture of holistic wellbeing for all employees and students is a win-win.

"When faculty and staff are well, they pass that on to the students," Downs said. "Whatever we can do to support students will eventually help them in the workplace and in their lives beyond Iowa State."