New learning community takes 360° approach

Freshmen in BGSU’s brand new Health, Wellness and You Learning Community will be starting out on the right foot — and hand. They will be wearing FitBit® wristband activity trackers as “researchers on their own lives,” according to founding director Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy, public and allied health. “This is a great opportunity for students to get engaged in research using a technology and topic they can understand.”

While the students are learning about diet, fitness, work-life-school balance and related wellness topics in their cohort classes, they will also be gathering data that will be used in Ludy’s long-term Freshman Health Study and by senior nutrition majors for their research course projects. What is learned could guide programming to make the BGSU campus healthier for current and future students.

Planned as an academic learning community this year, the goal is for Health, Wellness and You to become a residential community in the 2017-18 school year, Ludy said. Aimed primarily at freshmen in academic majors that do not include an introductory class, the learning community kicks off with freshman 1910 classes taught by faculty members in a variety of disciplines. Each class is capped at 20 students. Following their weekly 1910 class sessions, all participants will meet together for a wellness-related seminar.

The learning community’s 1910 curriculum builds on courses that have been offered in the past, with some new ones this year, said Kim Brooks, associate director for undergraduate education. “One of the goals is to build a relationship between students and faculty members that will help them become acclimated and make a successful transition to university life,” she said.

There is strong evidence that participation in an academic learning community contributes to student retention, Ludy said. Also, undergraduate engagement in research activities promotes future research involvement — all of which strengthen engagement and hands-on learning.

Robyn Miller, human movement, sport and leisure studies, two years ago piloted a fitness-related course that proved popular. She and Karyn Smith, health educator with the Wellness Connection, are offering two sections of “Live Well, Learn Well” this year. Both are fully enrolled.

MythBusters: Falcon Edition,” taught by Ludy and Dr. Amy Morgan, exercise science and associate dean in the College of Education and Human Development, explores assumptions about college life. It is already full, as is “Fight, Flight or Freeze: The Impact of Stress,” taught by Dr. Nancy Orel, gerontology and associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Laura Fullenkamp, social work.

Even before the start of academic classes, learning community members can again this year join the Freshman Wilderness Experience course, led by Thad Long, associate director of recreation and wellness. The course may include hiking in the Appalachians or canoeing rivers and streams, and learning “leave no trace” principles. In the fall, the course continues with a focus on transitioning successfully to college. 

Throughout the semester, the new learning community members will also have the advantage of regular contact with health and wellness experts in their weekly seminars as they study the eight dimensions of wellness as identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual. Those who complete a list of related activities will receive a health and wellness certificate.

Each 1910 cohort will receive a different color FitBit®, which will monitor steps taken and sleep patterns. Funding for the wristbands was provided by the University’s Center for Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan and Medical Mutual. 

“Not only will the FitBits® give us more objective data for our research than we were getting from self-reporting questionnaires, they will also help the freshmen be more aware of their activity levels and their sleep patterns,” Ludy said. “And we can help these students understand what their data mean.”

First-year college students tend to experience undesirable body composition changes, she said. Over the past four years, she and her research team have used a cutting-edge graduate-to‐undergraduate student mentorship approach to explore the patterns and composition of weight change. The nutrition majors will do research on the lives of first-year students in the learning community including body composition, fitness, sleep, stress level, and blood pressure.

“There’s also the potential for other research to develop between the undergraduates and their 1910 instructors,” Brooks said. “We have the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship and a lot of resources across campus we want to make students aware of that they could tap into. I’d like to see us expand into that territory.”

Through focus groups, the inaugural student members will play a role in planning the community’s next iteration as a residential health and wellness learning community. The tentative plan for the 2017-18 residential community includes access to a dietitian, mental health counselor, personal trainer, a dedicated workout room, FitBits®, and more.

Ludy is excited about all the possibilities the new learning community presents. “It marries teaching with research. I feel there are all kinds of good opportunities and extensions for this work.”

Support for the community is provided by the Office of the Provost, the College of Health and Human Services, BGSU’s Center of Excellence for Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan and Medical Mutual.