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Health promotion students use practicum to help peers maintain wellness in isolation

Spending time in isolation or quarantine after having or being exposed to COVID-19 can be a lonely and monotonous experience for university students, who are used to being social and near other people.

At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a group of health promotion and wellness majors has been working to change that.

Hoping to inspire emotional and social wellness as well as physical, the students used their practicum course over the past two semesters to create a website and care package to inspire and help students stay positive during the time they spend alone.

“I had COVID-19 last fall and even though I was at home, it felt very isolating,” said Nicole Neuberger, a health promotion and wellness major from Minnetrista, Minn. “I also had a few first-year student hockey teammates who had a harder time adjusting to the first weeks of college because of their time in quarantine. This was a great opportunity for me to speak up about these experiences and help our UWSP community.”

The care packages, delivered by Dining Services with their first meal, contain a gratitude journal, yoga mat, brain games and activities, healthy snacks and links to videos created by students for exercise and meditation. The website has links to COVID-19 information, entertaining podcasts, wellness tips, resources for academics as well as mental and physical health on the local and national level and things to do such as online museums, quizzes and a variety of virtual activities.

“It is all about students caring about students,” said Terry Aittama, a senior lecturer in health promotion and wellness who leads the practicum course to give students hands-on experiences in the community.

“As health promotion majors, they recognize that human connection is essential to well-being,” she said. “They were excited to engage in innovative ways to connect with other students.  I’m so proud of what they worked together to accomplish.”

Last fall, fewer off-campus practicum opportunities were available because of the pandemic, Aittama said, so classroom experiences became the focus. The class brainstormed and the website idea was created. Andy Saul, a health promotion and wellness major from Ripon, had a lead role in creating the site with ideas, articles, links and other resources researched by others in the course.

“We wanted to create a way to keep students’ minds off their struggles and help them stay positive,” Saul said. “It became a good place for lots of resources. I could not have put it all together without the help of my classmates.”

Last spring Aittama won the College of Professional Studies Heroes Award, which came with a $2,000 stipend to support student work in the community. She decided to use the funds to buy items for the care packages, which a few students assembled for distribution in April.

Among them was Eryn Murphy, a health promotion and wellness major from Byron, Ill., who this spring also took on a practicum role at UWSP’s Counseling Center. Initially interested in physical wellness as a focus, she has found that she enjoys learning about how mental and social wellness makes a difference for people.

“I created infographics about having a positive mindset in quarantine through journaling,” she said. “It feels good to know I can help my community and give back to the university. It has also been helpful to work with different people and experience the kind of teamwork that I can take forward into my career.”

“I became interested in health promotion and wellness because I wanted to help people,” said Neuberger, whose spring practicum was assisting with promoting wellness through the Portage County Weight Race. “It feels good to make a difference in their wellbeing.”

Saul, who will graduate in May, is pleased that the website created by the fall practicum class coordinates with the care package concepts created by this spring’s class, with all efforts promoting the seven dimensions of wellness, from the physical to the mental.

“This is a great example of the culture at UW-Stevens Point, where students really care about and support each other,” he said. “Coming together to support community health and wellness is really important.”

Courtesy of University Communications and Marketing.

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