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Integrated Wellness

students stretching in class

Westminster creates opportunities for enriching the student experience and fostering a community of well-being

by Claire Prasad (Honors '18)

It’s an early spring morning at Westminster University, and campus is alive with students. Groups of student-athletes emerge from the gym after their early morning practices. Student workers head to their campus jobs: giving  tours, conducting research, leading their peers through roles in student government, and much more. Others emerge from the Giovale Library after studying for hours, ready for class to start. Between their quick transitions from one  commitment to another, students call their friends and family members, or scroll through their texts and emails to manage their off-campus responsibilities.

Being a  student in 2024 entails a lot of responsibility.

It’s no surprise that among college students, rates of anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. According to the annual Healthy Minds Study, a web-based survey of over 96,000 college students, 44% of students had symptoms of depression, and 37% had symptoms of anxiety in the 2021–2022 academic year. Those are the highest rates of depression and anxiety since the organization began collecting data 15 years ago. College may be the first time that students are living on their own or with roommates, and learning how to balance school, work, and other commitments. These stressors make students especially vulnerable to mental-health crises.

But stress, as we know, does not end with graduation. Navigating the ups and downs of life carries with it many moments of stress, often exacerbated by the fact that stressors come from nearly all aspects of adulthood. Finances, mental and physical health, social situations, environmental concerns—and the list goes on. Westminster faculty and staff are committed to preparing students to manage the effects of these various stressors by equipping them with the knowledge and resources they need to face them head-on.

As an example, money matters cause a great deal of stress for students, so financial wellness becomes a critical part of mental and physical wellness. Westminster aims to minimize feelings of finance-related stress through its Financial Wellness Center, which offers students resources for becoming financially literate. This is one component of seven key areas of wellness that Westminster is focusing on to enhance not just the student experience, but the human experience.

 Here’s a look at some of the unique ways in which Westminster has integrated wellness into daily life on campus. An approach inspired by one simple concept: lead by doing.

Studying brain waves at high altitudes

In the fall of 2023, Professor Russ Costa took students from his Cognitive Neuroscience class to Snowbird ski resort to study brain waves. Russ teaches neuroscience at Westminster, and one area of his research focuses on how high altitudes affect decision-making.

In designing research projects that have opportunities for student involvement, Russ prioritizes outdoor experiences. By doing so, he contributes to the physical and emotional wellness of Westminster students and helps them combat burnout and fatigue.

“Studies have shown that being outdoors has a positive impact on cognitive function. That’s one of the main reasons that I try to give students outdoor research opportunities like this project. Westminster’s campus is unique in that it’s located close to incredible outdoor spaces that we can incorporate into our teaching.”

Part of Russ’s inspiration for the research at Snowbird came after witnessing the increasing levels of fatigue during and after the pandemic.

“In the same way that people get tired after riding a bike, lifting weights, or running for long periods of time, fatigue can build up when people need to repeatedly make decisions. This is a concept known as decision fatigue,” Russ says. “During the pandemic, people had to make a lot of extra decisions about how they were going to respond to their situation and build new routines. This led to fatigue in the workplace and, of course, among students."

Although Russ says that research about the pandemic and related decision fatigue among students is just starting to be published, he has noticed that since the pandemic, students in his classes seem increasingly exhausted with trying to manage their classwork and other commitments.

Decision fatigue can lead to poor outcomes in the workplace and school, but it can also have serious consequences for athletes. For backcountry snowboarders or skiers, making the wrong decision in the backcountry could lead to injury or death.

One of the factors that can lead to increased decision fatigue in outdoor sports is oxygen availability. At higher altitudes, oxygen levels are decreased, which means that less oxygen is available for the brain. This can lead to poor decision-making. With this relationship between oxygen availability and decision-making in mind, Russ forged a partnership with Snowbird ski resort to examine the relationship between altitude and brain function.

Students in Russ’s Cognitive Neuroscience class measured the brain waves of student volunteers using a tool called an EEG net, which is a helmet-shaped device with sensors that can collect and record brain waves. The measurements took place at Snowbird, with an elevation of around 11,000 feet, and on Westminster’s campus, with an elevation of around 4,400 feet. The project allowed students to experience research in a new environment while contending with real-world challenges.

“Some of the challenges that we’ve faced with this project are logistical: we’ve had to work around busy student schedules and the schedules of our partners at Snowbird. Students are also learning how to use new technology and how to work with one another in a new setting,” Russ says. “These challenges are exactly what we face as researchers in the field.”

While Russ and his students are still collecting and analyzing data, Russ is curious to see how brain waves measure differently between Snowbird, with a higher altitude, and Westminster’s campus, with a lower altitude. This project will continue for years to come, giving many neuroscience students the opportunity to participate in this unique experience.

Supporting basic needs

Anthropological archaeologist and Kim T. Adamson Chair in the Honors College, Alicia Cunningham-Bryant teaches a variety of classes. In Human Culture and Behavior, which she co-teaches with Russ Costa, each class has a specific theme within the broader context of human culture and behavior. The most recent theme? Food.

Food is essential to life, and it also has a large impact on overall wellness. Students who don’t have their physical needs met can’t focus on schoolwork or their obligations, let alone develop a personal relationship with wellness.

“Russ and I decided to focus on food as a theme for learning about and understanding human culture and behavior,” Alicia says. “The theme is accessible to students, because everyone eats, but it’s also a powerful way to think about science and socialization.”

As one of their first projects, students in Alicia’s fall 2023 class studied different farmer’s markets close to Westminster’s campus. Students did a series of readings before attending a market in person.

“A lot of students in the class had never been to a farmer’s market. With Westminster sponsoring the opportunity, students got to have this experience that they previously felt excluded from,” Alicia says. “Many students stated that it changed their perception of farmer’s markets and made them think differently about where they get their food.”

Food insecurity is defined as uncertainty about the availability of nutritious and affordable food. Access to food and rising inflation are contributing to the problem of food insecurity among students. Grocery stores that were once affordable may be too pricey: the cost of food and hygiene products has skyrocketed in just the past few years. According to The Washington Post, grocery store prices have increased by 25% from 2020 to 2024, outpacing the overall inflation rate of 19%.

“When you’re hungry, it’s hard to focus and to learn anything,” says Alicia. “How can we expect students to be engaged in class when they’re worried about where their next meal will come from and how they will pay for it?”

 A study by The Hope Center found that in 2020, 29% of students enrolled in four-year colleges or universities in the United States experienced food insecurity. In Utah, this percentage is even higher. The 2021 Food Security Survey of Higher Education Students in Utah found that 38.8% of Utah students in higher education faced food insecurity in the past year. In addition, food insecurity among students is higher for first-generation students, students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, disabled students, and students who are caregivers.

At Westminster, The Purple Basket aims to be part of the solution.

Stocked with food and hygiene products, the Purple Basket is a basic-needs pantry located on  campus. It’s available for students to use anonymously and with no questions asked. Students provide their student ID numbers to verify that they attend Westminster, and then they can take any food or hygiene products at no cost.

The Purple Basket is integrated into the Basic Needs program at Westminster, and is entirely donor- and grant-funded. The Purple Basket partners with other on-campus organizations, such as the Organic Garden that provides fresh produce, and also uses donations and grant funds to stock the pantry with food and hygiene products.

Keaton Schrank manages the Basic Needs program. She collects anonymous data on the usage of the Purple Basket, which shows how vital the program is for the Westminster community. In the 2022–23 school year, 15% of the student population at Westminster accessed the Purple Basket at least once. In addition, the number of daily visits to the Purple Basket is rising. In the 2022–23 school year, the Purple Basket averaged around three student visits per day. In the 2023–24 school year, that number has increased to an average of 12 student visits per day.

“Food insecurity impacts academic performance, student retention, mental health, and more,” says Keaton. “During these challenging times, I’m glad that Westminster has programs like the Purple Basket to support students.”

Channeling mindfulness 

In November 2022, the Honors College at Westminster University won the Beacon Award for Excellence in Student Achievement and Success, awarded by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The award was presented to the Honors College for its wellness initiative, which has proven to be hugely successful in increasing social and emotional wellness among students.

Every student in the Honors College at Westminster has the benefit of participating in the college’s wellness initiative. Starting in their first semester, Honors College students are introduced to wellness practices through multiple facets of the program.

First-year Honors College students meet as a cohort during weekly evening seminars, called Tuesday Conversations, to practice wellness as part of the wellness initiative. For the first part of each seminar, students meet with a mindfulness practitioner: a yoga instructor, meditation instructor, or graduate student with expertise in mindfulness writing. Students choose their preferred mindfulness practice and meet with their instructor weekly to work on their practice.

Before meeting with their mindfulness instructors, students gather as a cohort to hear from peer mentors, Honors College students in their second, third, or fourth year who volunteer to mentor first-year students. The peer mentors share “mentoring moments”: short stories describing hardships they experienced as students and what they learned from those hardships.

“Mentoring moments help demystify the Honors College experience,” says José Hernández Zamudio, assistant dean of the Honors College. “Students may enter the program with the idea that they need to be perfect. When they see their peer mentors talk about their struggles and how they overcame them, first-year students learn that it’s okay to ask for help.”

Wellness is also a topic of discussion in Honors College classes.  Honors College faculty incorporate at least one text that relates to an issue of health or wellness into their syllabi for first-year seminars. When discussing these texts in class, Honors College faculty are joined by experts on the topic, such as a counselor or a Title IX officer, from across Westminster’s campus. In addition to normalizing conversations about wellness in an academic setting, these experts introduce students to the resources available to them on campus.

In the future, the Honors College hopes to expand its wellness initiative and add even more opportunities for wellness programming. Consistency is key to the program’s success.

“Too often wellness programming consists of one-off initiatives, where students are asked to attend a one-hour meeting and then are expected to apply a new practice,” says Richard Badenhausen, dean of the Honors College. “We learn things only by practicing them over time, being able to ask questions as we develop a new skill, and doing so in a supportive environment. That’s the goal of this program.”

Creating space for wellness

In March 2023, Westminster community members gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the L.S. Skaggs Integrated Wellness Center. This new building is set to open in fall 2024 and will help students build integrated-wellness routines that will last them throughout their time at university and beyond.

The 11,000-square-foot, two-story building is being built according to the highest standards of sustainability and focuses on a net-zero emissions approach. Funds for the construction and maintenance of the building were raised before the groundbreaking even occurred, affirming the community's support for this project.

Along with housing support programs like Student Health Services, the Mental Health Counseling Center, Global Peace and Spirituality, and the Center for Financial Wellness, the L.S. Skaggs Integrated Wellness Center will have a courtyard in which students can garden and practice meditation, as well as a teaching kitchen where students can learn to cook nutritious meals. 

The L.S. Skaggs Integrated Wellness Center marks a huge achievement for Westminster as the university prepares for its sesquicentennial in 2025, when the university turns 150 years old. As part of this milestone, the university is reaffirming its commitment to students by adopting priorities for what Westminster will be like at 150 years old.  With the construction of The L.S. Skaggs Integrated Wellness Center, Westminster community members will soon have physical representation of the university’s commitment to supporting wellness.

Through research, support systems, and wellness programming, Westminster University has myriad opportunities available to students for developing integrated-wellness routines. Now, more than ever, it’s important to come together as a community—and Westminster is continuing to build opportunities to do so.


Westminster University's integrated approach to wellness empowers students to live a healthy life, develop confidence, and create community on campus.

Social: Social wellness involves building strong communities, forming life-long friendships, and learning from mentors, all of which can be found at Westminster University.
Intellectual: Westminster aims to build a community of life-long learners by inspiring and fostering academic growth. Through classes and extracurricular activities, intellectual wellness is a priority at Westminster.
Emotional: Emotional wellness is key to all other areas of wellness. At Westminster, there are support systems in place to help students understand and improve their mental health.
Spiritual: Spiritual wellness is built through understanding and respecting diverse people and perspectives. All students benefit from these unique perspectives in classes and on campus.
Physical: Westminster provides opportunities for physical wellness through its Outdoor Program, Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center, and classes which invite students to explore the world around them.
Environmental: Westminster’s unique location provides an excellent opportunity for environmental education and stewardship. Students develop personal relationships with the environment around them and learn how they can be advocates and stewards for the environment.
Financial: Financial wellness is crucial for developing a path for success. At Westminster, students are  supported in finding on and off-campus jobs, financial planning, and other resources that they can access after graduation.



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.