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Fostering community wellness: Reflections from the wellness coaches

What does it mean to practice “wellness?”

Wellness can feel tricky to practice because it represents an ongoing and active process instead of a distinct health accomplishment. For some, managing a distinct indicator like a GPA, cholesterol level or credit score feels more tangible than assessing the daily habits that help or hinder well-being. The Center for Campus Wellness provides professional wellness coaching where students nurture their wellness practices using a balanced, judgment-free and holistic approach.

Hear from the coaches about how they navigate the nuances of wellness with their clients and how the program helps students thrive at the University of Utah.

Holistic approach to student success

“Wellness coaches take a holistic approach to student success,” says Katie Atkinson, a well-being navigator at the Center for Campus Wellness. She shares that her team places a high value on nurturing balance and intentionality with clients.

Many sessions start by using the wellness wheel, a multidimensional and interconnected tool highlighting the nine key dimensions of well-being recognized by .

“The wheel helps students identify and understand the interconnectedness of wellness practice,” Atkinson states. “There are many tools from each dimension that can help us stay present while we make incremental progress toward transforming our practices in one area of life”

She shares an example of the wellness wheel in practice, “Say a student comes in to talk about difficulties with their emotional wellness, like managing stress. While working with a coach, they can identify the root of their issue and discover skills from across the wellness wheel to improve the situation. Maybe this student can set five minutes for enjoyable movement, a physical wellness practice that can also improve our ability to manage stress.”

The Wellness Coaching Program is professionally staffed by Atkinson and two graduate assistants from the Master of Health and Kinesiology program at the University of Utah’s College of Health.

This two-year assistantship provides emerging professionals the opportunity to hone their skills as they pursue their specialization in health education and wellness coaching.

Wellness coaching is a judgement-free zone

A typical day for a wellness coach is filled with “positivity, motivational challenges and rewarding experiences,” according to Mikey Powell, a graduating wellness coach.

The wellness coaches spend most of their time working face-to-face with students, meeting virtually or in person at the Student Services Building.

Coaching sessions are free for students—and available for undergraduates and graduate students. During the first session, typically 45 minutes to an hour, you can expect a conversation with your wellness coach to outline goals, identify obstacles and create a tailored plan with specific resources and peer support in mind.

Many students may not be aware that these sessions are also confidentially protected—an added layer of perceived protection for those nervous about how others may react to their life changes. As an ally and resource, a wellness coach is here to motivate, envision and provide accountability for students seeking change.

Wellness coaches do not provide diagnostic services or medical treatments, but can provide referrals for students seeking health-related services.

As the program coordinator, Atkinson notes the most common request this year has been for support with time management. The coaches can help students find balance across many areas of life—from creating a healthy meal prep routine, coping with stress, finding friends and more.

“Wellness coaches are here to support you in making the changes you want to make, not push you into changes you aren’t interested in. The focus is to help build skills and build confidence with certified peer support in a judgment-free zone.”

Powell highlights a memorable coaching experience from earlier this spring:

“One of my students was looking for support managing anxiety before a class presentation. They seemed knowledgeable about the content, but the pressure of speaking in public often got the best of them, causing them to stutter, freeze and feel low self-esteem. In our session, we practiced two mindfulness exercises to stay grounded ahead of their presentation. They reported back that adopting this strategy to manage their stress and anxiety was so successful, that it was the most confidence they have felt in school with presenting.”

The power of personalized support

Based on the consistent demand, the program is expanding to provide wellness coaching sessions in the summer for enrolled students.

Current wellness coach, Blessing Otesanya, notes the pride that comes with supporting students pursuing long-term goals:

“I started working with a client in the fall of 2023 and we have been on a journey for months together now. I can see how much progress she has made during the past year. We had a session recently where we were able to celebrate achieving her goal. This made me so excited, and made me realize how much coaching can support people.”

In addition to fostering student success, the wellness coaches also support the university’s response to the crisis of loneliness impacting young adults nationally. In the wake of ongoing findings of isolation and loneliness through the Healthy Minds Survey, several campus resources are looking at ways to nurture deeper connections among students.

Wellness coaching provides an opportunity for emerging professionals to support young adults navigating the transition to adulthood. As self-identified “accountability buddies,” the coaches take pride in being supportive peers who can be reliable guides as their students figure out their path and their people during college.

The wellness coaches also share that the program improved their feeling of belonging on campus in the past two years.

Powell reflects on his experience with the program sharing, “I will remember fondly each of the numerous positive interactions and successful coaching sessions I had the opportunity to engage in [during the past two years]. I coached +120 sessions during my tenure at the CCW; the growth, perspectives, and positive lifestyle changes I’ve seen in a diverse array of students throughout these sessions make me feel proud to have been an influential pillar of peer support for our students.”

Students can book a session with a wellness coach directly using this booking link.