The chief wellness officer role is expanding at institutions across the nation, propelled in part by the pandemic's spotlight on mental health

The rise of the chief wellness officer on campus


The chief wellness officer role is expanding at institutions across the nation, propelled in part by the pandemic's spotlight on mental health

While institutions have made “significant investments to staff-up the counseling center, offer tech-based mental health resources, and promote robust non-clinical wellness supports,” campus leaders discover that these critical investments are not quite enough to address mental health and well-being concerns on campuses, according to an EAB white paper.

This has led institutions to create a space for dedicated leadership overseeing a holistic, integrated approach to student well-being, according to EAB: “Chief wellness officers are experienced professionals charged with managing services that directly support students’ mental and physical health and embedding well-being into all facets of the student experience. They provide critical vision, bandwidth, and expertise to strategically align campus efforts, identify gaps and redundancies in resources, and rigorously assess progress and adapt as needed.”

Campus-wide wellness

Wellness applies to all students, whether they’re on a 4-year track right out of high school or whether they’re adults with personal and/or professional obligations and goals.

“Wellness doesn’t belong to one individual, but wellness is different for people depending on where they are in their stage of life,” Stewart said.

Stewart said initially, top wellness priorities will include mental health, food insecurity, and financial wellness, and the university has many programs in the right places already–all it’s going to take in some cases is a little communication to break down silos and make wellness services more cohesive.

“Sometimes it’s not about creating a new program, it’s about taking what you’re already doing, elevating it, and bringing in people with passion,” Stewart said. “I developed ‘passion teams,’–I don’t like the term ‘committee.’ I want people to have a space where they can work within their passion, because that’s when productivity goes up.”

Stewart hopes UWG’s efforts will serve as inspiration to other institutions.

“I would love to see other institutions in the system be able to look at this model. We look at it through the lens of sustainability, collaboration, multi-culturalism. It sums up what our framework is doing, and I do think it’s a model that could be looked at. I’m ecstatic and blessed to have the opportunity,” she said.

“Wellness needs to be the foundation for everything that we do here at this university–not just for retention, progression, and graduation, but for success beyond the classroom.”

Laura Ascione