In an effort to enhance community wellness and create new resources to support students and faculty, the University of West Georgia has established its first chief wellness officer position.
As chief wellness officer, Bridgette Stewart ’03, director of UWG’s Wolf Wellness Lab and member of the National Wellness Institute’s board of directors, will work within the National Wellness Institute’s six dimentions of wellness–emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual–as she and her team craft policies, programs, and supports targeted to the UWG community.
“Wellness has been something we’ve focused on in higher ed, but it’s typically been in siloed pockets,” Stewart said. “We’ve had services, but what we’ve never had is a collective culture. Any time you truly want to change a culture, you can’t do it in individual silos. You can’t make the best use of your resources when you have different groups that are essentially offering the same type of programming but aren’t communicating.”
Creating and implementing an institution-wide wellness framework is one facet of the university’s strategic plan.
Administrative support has been critical in developing the chief wellness officer role, and UWG President Brendan B. Kelly values the importance of wellness in the university community.
“One of our biggest feats is having an administrator at that level,” Stewart said. “[To have] your university president, your provost, your vice president for student affairs, all realize that retention, progression, and graduation are great, but we have students who can’t feed themselves because they don’t have food. We have students who don’t know where they’re going to live. Students who don’t know how to manage stress or high levels of anxiety. That is causing retention, progression, and graduation not to move forward.”
Chief wellness officer positions are spreading rapidly across campuses, particularly in the wake of COVID’s spotlight on the importance of mental health and well-being.
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