Pilot Program Helps Students Boost Wellness
MIT’s new ENGINEERyourHEALTH PLUS program utilizes recreation to help students find practices to enhance their emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. The program was developed by Director of MIT Recreation Stephanie Smith and her predecessor Tim Mertz, who both work for Health Fitness Corporation, which operates MIT’s Zesiger Center and Alumni/Wang Fitness Center.
The main goal of ENGINEERyourHEALTH PLUS is to help students access MIT Recreation's wellness-boosting services and activities—such as massage, yoga, and personal training—more easily. “Once you’re in this program, Steph and her team really take a consultative approach in helping the student to make decisions (about what activities would be most beneficial),” Mertz says. The program even employs therapists and trainers who are available as late as 10 pm, which makes it easier for students to fit sessions into their busy schedules.
The inspiration came from a review of survey data. Mertz and Smith discovered that students cited cost, time, and location as persistent barriers to seeking support. “At the same time across campus, [there was] this intentional focus on mental health and improving the climate for different quality of life indicators,” Mertz explains. “We thought, well, MIT Recreation can do so much on the preventative, proactive side, and to be viewed and included as part of the campus care network would be excellent.”
So, Smith and Mertz reached out to Student Support Services (S3) and suggested a partnership. “We had a discussion with them and said, ‘It would be great if students who need help and see you first could be referred into this program,’” Mertz explains, “then we can prescribe or provide access to these free programs.” (Costs are covered by a grant from Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life.) The three-year pilot is currently in its second year, and Mertz notes that student feedback has been very positive.
Jessica Quaye ’20, an electrical engineering and computer science (Course 6) major, was referred to the program in the fall of her sophomore year. After a successful first year, Quaye entered her second year with a heavy course load and lots of activities. Soon, the amount of work it took to fulfill her many commitments was wearing her down. “Everything was just overwhelming me at the time, and so I went to S3 and I spoke to my dean and I was just crying and frustrated.” After Quaye’s S3 dean referred her to the ENGINEERyourHEALTH PLUS program, she booked a massage which left her feeling refreshed and at ease. “[Stephanie] just made the entire process easy,” she explains, referring to the process of enrolling in ENGINEERyourHEALTH PLUS and selecting wellness activities.
Quaye reflects on the warm, welcoming nature of her massage therapist, and the impact it had on her at the time. “For me, just having someone be nice to me in a really stressful moment just warmed my heart and made me feel like everything will be okay regardless of how stressed you are and how badly things are going.”
The following spring, Smith reached out to Quaye with an offer to continue with the program. “I was like, ‘Of course!’” Quaye insists that every student at MIT can benefit from ENGINEERyourHEALTH PLUS—not just those struggling with mental health. “It’s a break for [students],” Quaye says of the program. “For people who are taking on a lot of responsibilities, having the exercise or the massage just helps you to break away and just to take care of yourself and make sure you’re healthy.
Written by Nicole Cooper, Photo courtesy of MIT Recreation