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UW Health and Wellness Management
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Turn your passion for wellness into a healthy career.
Turn your passion for wellness into a healthy career.

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How One Student Turned a Passion for Health and Fitness Into a Career in Corporate Wellness

Like many traditional students, Alan Kieffer entered college without a clear career path in mind. He was passionate about fitness and health, but he had no idea how to make the leap from healthy hobby to successful career in corporate wellness. After earning his associate degree from UW-Marshfield and dabbling in physical education courses at UW-La Crosse, Alan discovered the University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program through an online search.

“I’ve always been interested in physicality and fitness,” said Alan, “and I knew I needed to do something with a lot of career potential. It made sense to enroll in the UW Health and Wellness Management program.” For Alan, this online degree program had two major appeals—it was a subject he could fully engage in, and it offered exciting career opportunities.

Making gains with a robust corporate wellness curriculum
Alan’s foresight proved accurate. Soon after he graduated in the spring of 2014, he was offered a job as fitness coordinator for Sentry Insurance, a corporation committed to offering its employees a superior quality of life.

The program’s well-rounded curriculum provides students the skills and knowledge they need to build, promote, and maintain an effective corporate wellness program—everything from human anatomy and health literacy to marketing communications and research and statistics.

“I was impressed with the variety of different health and wellness topics and disciplines the program covers. This degree prepares you for so many career paths.”

Online flexibility in the pursuit of a fitness profession
Between a full-time, variable-schedule job, a family, and a busy roster of sports and activities in his off time, Alan thought it would be hard to find time for schoolwork.

“Outside of work, I’m a huge sports fan. I love to golf, disc golf, play basketball. I think it’s really important to be active.” He’s also a loyal fan of the Badgers, Packers, and Brewers—a full roster of spectator sports. So how does he fit it all in?

“The online format allowed me to do schoolwork when it was convenient for me. I didn’t have to worry about fitting work and activities in around school—I could fit school in when I wasn’t working or enjoying other activities.” Alan took to the online format much more easily than he expected. He was able to pace his work to meet his needs, and he welcomed the chance to exercise the self-discipline that will come in handy when he’s motivating himself—and others—to reach their wellness goals.

Connecting with faculty and classmates
Alan was impressed with how well the online UW Health and Wellness Management program handled communication between students, faculty, and program advisers. Easily accessible discussion boards allowed students to come and go as needed and contribute once they’d had the time to develop an opinion—leading to a more considered, constructive conversation.

“The online discussion boards were a great way to get feedback and ideas from my instructors, as well as discuss and debate the many health and wellness issues that affect our lives and might come up in our careers.”

And while group projects are always a unique challenge, Alan was pleased that the courses promoted an “in-this-together” mentality. As he made his way through the program, Alan built relationships with his fellow classmates. This collaborative and encouraging environment helped Alan think of his education as a team effort—a mindset he happily related to.

Because of the flexibility and straightforward design of the UW Health and Wellness Management program, Alan was able to graduate in only two years. Once he earned his degree, he found that the education he received had prepared him well for putting health and wellness theories into practice in the real world. “The program took these broad ideas and funneled them down into concrete skills that are of great value in the corporate wellness industry.”

Making a difference with a career in corporate wellness
Alan is utilizing those skills in his role at Sentry. As fitness coordinator, he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the corporate fitness center. A social person, Alan loves the daily interaction he has with customers and staff. Because the facility is only open to Sentry employees, retirees, and their families, he sees familiar faces on a regular basis and enjoys a bigger opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

“I’m in charge of scheduling and organizing group fitness classes. If I know my customers, I can track attendance and bring in different classes or instructors to meet their needs.”

In the last session Alan organized, he featured classes such as Zumba, Core Stretch and Sculpt, Aqua Zumba and Fitness, and Butts and Guts, a workout focusing on core strength.

Another perk of a health and wellness career is the day-to-day variety of activities. “I get to meet all kinds of different people, and there’s really no ‘normal week’—fitness is always changing!” In the warmer months, when busy schedules naturally decrease gym participation, he likes to promote his programs and take advantage of beautiful weather. He recently led a Couch-to-5K course for employees interested in taking up running to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining their health and wellness.

Looking forward to a healthy future
Alan has high hopes for his future. His ultimate dream is to become a health and wellness director. With the strong foundation of a reputable University of Wisconsin bachelor’s degree in health and wellness management, plus the experience he is gaining at Sentry Insurance, Alan is ahead of the game and gaining on his goals.

Want to start or advance your career in health and wellness? Find out more about the UW Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Management and how it can help you land your dream job. Call 1-877-895-3276 or email learn@uwex.edu to speak with a helpful enrollment adviser today.

Previously published on Experience UW HWM.
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Student Dreams of Promoting Community Wellness Programs After Earning Degree

The University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program was created for people like Kris Greener. As a busy physical therapist assistant with a family, she never had time to complete her bachelor’s degree. She also had trouble finding the right degree to complement her experience and passion for wellness. Then she found the UW Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Management. Currently, she is a student in the program—and loves it!

We wanted to ask Kris more about why she chose the program, her experience as a student, and her dream of promoting community wellness programs. Here are her answers, in her own words.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a full-time, non-traditional student (at age 50!) in the UW Health and Wellness Management program. I am married with two daughters—one is 21 and the other is 15. My oldest daughter and I started college at the same time, in the fall of 2013, which was challenging and entertaining at the same time.

I am a physical therapist assistant (PTA) and graduated with an associate degree in 1998 from Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I have been practicing as a PTA for 17 years. I am also an adjunct instructor in the PTA program at our local technical college.

I am passionate about health and community wellness. As a hobby, I research health topics and eagerly share what I learn with anyone who will listen, so they, too, can make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

I integrate what I learn with my family and the choices we make. I love taking long, brisk walks to reduce stress and rejuvenate my mind, and we have a big vegetable garden that I enjoy. I can and freeze the produce in the fall.

Why did you decide to go back to school?
I have always wanted to go back and get my bachelor’s degree. Over the years, I took courses here and there, but it was never a good time to jump into a program full time until now. I felt that I was at a standstill in my career and wanted to grow. I needed a degree program that would expand my knowledge, allow me to pursue a different career, and complement my past experience as a PTA.

My goal is to be a health and wellness professional who promotes individual and community health and well-being. I’d like to either work for an organization or start my own business. I have some experience in this kind of work. For the past two years, I have organized and presented at Women’s Wellness Day for my community and am currently working on a presentation for the third annual Women’s Wellness Day.

Why did you choose the UW Health and Wellness Management program?

I am so glad I found this program. I was looking for something that would complement my degree and experience as a PTA and give me the opportunity to work in a field I was passionate about. The UW Health and Wellness Management program curriculum promotes a healthy lifestyle, physical activity, and prevention. It was exactly what I wanted.

I also was looking for an online program. As a busy wife and mother, I wanted to go to school—without having to go to campus—and still be able to take care of things at home. This program allowed me to do that.

Describe your experience as a student.
Overall, it has been great. I have a good support system at home and my adviser Faye Perkins is always there for me when I am having a tough day. With everything in life, you have challenges, and if you work hard, they become triumphs. Being a full-time student has kept me very busy, so I really need to manage my time well between school and family—both need my attention.

What are the most beneficial aspects of the program?
The flexibility for sure! Also, I love that I can take what I learn each semester and put it to use at work. First semester was my favorite, because I learned about the seven dimensions of wellness and behavior change models, which opened up my eyes to my own health and habits.

I like getting to know other students in the program through discussions and group projects. Online courses can be hard, because you feel alone at times—it’s just you and your laptop. Forming online friendships with other classmates is essential to bounce things off of and to support each other on this journey.

What advice do you have for other students?
You need good time management skills. Being organized with your assignments and giving yourself ample time to complete them is very important, as they can take longer than expected.

Make sure you have a great support system in place; my husband and daughters are amazingly supportive. This is a lot to take on. You and the significant others in your life need to understand the time commitment and that it may take you away from them for periods of time.

With that being said, it is never too late to get your degree! I was 30 years old with a two-year-old the first time I went back to school. Now at age 50 and with a teenager still living at home, I am completing my bachelor’s degree. It can be done, just believe in yourself and never give up!

Take the next step your toward your dream job in health and wellness. Visit the UW Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Management website at hwm.wisconsin.edu to find out why this program is great for busy adults. Or talk with a friendly enrollment adviser today by calling 1-877-895-3276 or emailing learn@uwex.edu.

Originally published on July 28, 2017 on Experience UW HWM.
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One Student’s Journey from Nutrition Enthusiast to Future Health and Wellness Program Manager

When you see a burger or a slice of pie, which of these is your first thought:

Looks delicious; must eat now
I probably shouldn’t
What’s in this food?
But you eat anyway

If you chose number three, then you have something in common with Cynthia Okeleye. She enrolled in the UW Health and Wellness Management program a year and a half ago, but she has been fascinated with nutrition for much of her life.

“I think it’s important to know the whole process food goes through before it ends up on our plates,” she says. This interest is one of the driving forces that set her on the path to become a health and wellness manager.

A passion for nutrition
“I fell into it, really,” Cynthia says of her career. But if we rewind all the way back to high school, she was a health advocate then, too. Her way of staying fit was not sports but working out on her own. It still is today.

“I think it’s important to know the whole process food goes through before it ends up on our plates.”

“I am really into strength training. I notice women don’t really lift weights at the gym. I enjoy competing with the guys because they don’t expect to see a female lifting!”

Her love of health and nutrition led her to UW-Madison, where she majored in food science. One thing people may not realize about food science—it’s extremely technical. The program included a lot of biology and chemistry related to food manufacturing.

To get experience, Cynthia took a summer job at Babcock Dairy Plant on campus, a dream job to an ice cream lover. Producing cheese, milk, and dairy was anything but, she says.

“I worked with food technologists and researchers on projects, such as designing different ice cream flavors and learning how to make cheese, but it was mostly manual labor.”

That kind of work at Babcock—using machines to heat milk and running it into tubs, pressing and kneading cheese by hand, and delivering the products to campus stores and residence halls—and the intense science courses ultimately convinced her to leave food science for a different degree program.

Finding the sweet spot
Cynthia lives in the Twin Cities now. When she has spare time, she loves cooking and watching the Food Channel. Her favorite show is Chopped. “I love seeing what the competitors do with the secret ingredient!”

After she left Madison and began the search for another degree program, she felt a lingering need to learn about food. She picked up a UW-River Falls course catalog and found the online UW Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Management, a collaboration between UW-River Falls and UW-Extension.

It was perfect for her.

The program offers a well-rounded curriculum in which students learn about everything from human behavior, anatomy, and health coaching to program design, marketing, and management skills.

“The UW Health and Wellness Management program is not just about the science of health—it’s more about the social aspects of health, relationships, and being able to relate to people.”

The program changed her views about wellness. Cynthia used to think it was “exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep. Now, I know that aspects we don’t usually see—spiritual, occupational, financial, social, mental—also contribute to the entire well-being of a person.”

https://hwm.wisconsin.edu/blog/student-to-become-wellness-program-manager/

Originally published on April 14, 2015 in Experience UW Health and Wellness Management
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7 Things You Need to Do to Become a Wellness Coordinator

What if we told you… you can make the jump to the health and wellness field? 

It’s true. Even if you currently work in accounting, HR, marketing, education, business administration, or another field. “A background in a different discipline can provide invaluable experience when transitioning to a workplace wellness career,” says Theresa Islo, program manager for University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management and former director of operations for the Wellness Council of Wisconsin.

In fact, most UW Health and Wellness Management graduates who became wellness coordinators started out in a different field.

So, what’s the first step? How do you actually become a wellness coordinator?

7 Steps to Becoming a Wellness Coordinator

Before you scan Indeed.com—definitely before you start sending out your resume—do a reality check. Do you have the right combination of education and skills to get hired as a corporate wellness coordinator?  

If not, don’t worry. With planning and initiative, you will. Here are seven expert-approved steps.

1. Try a wellness initiative at work.

What’s the best way to find out if you like something? Dip your toe in first. Start a “grassroots” wellness initiative at your workplace.

“Many employers approach wellness as a component of their benefits package, which is how my exposure to worksite wellness began,” Islo says. “And if your organization doesn’t have a wellness program, you may have a blank slate to test out some things and learn from them.”

Send out an interest survey. Schedule weekly “Healthy Lunch Thursdays” with coworkers. Encourage participation in a biometrics screening. Start a running club. That’s how UW Health and Wellness Management graduate and former benefits specialist Jessica Waytashek began her career in corporate wellness. Her running club was a huge success; after earning her bachelor’s degree, she went on to become a wellness coordinator for Fleet Farm and recently, a health coach.

2. Deepen your knowledge of health and business.

Wellness coordinators have an in-depth understanding of two disciplines: health and business. As a wellness professional, you need to make the business case for a wellness program by assessing how a program might affect a company’s bottom line. You’ll also need a holistic understanding of human health, including behavior and anatomy, and knowledge of marketing, employee benefits, program design, and management. You won’t get this kind of well-rounded education from general undergraduate degrees like biology or psychology.

That’s why a degree in health and wellness management is recommended. It gives you the complete toolkit to run a successful corporate wellness program.

“I advocate for programs like UW Health and Wellness Management,” says Stephanie Pereira da Silva, a health and wellness manager at Kimberly-Clark Health Services who has a health promotion degree from UW-Stevens Point.

Depending on where you are in your education and career, a bachelor’s or master’s might be a better fit. But it’s possible to work as a wellness coordinator with either degree.

3. Seek out more formal working experience for your resume.

Apply for a wellness internship, or volunteer at your local YMCA. If you’re in a degree program, take full advantage of your capstone project. Explain exactly what you’re interested in—wellness programming—and learn as much as possible from the experience.

Don’t underestimate the power an internship, volunteer position, or capstone can have on your resume. For her capstone project, UW student Emma Skelton designed a weight management program called “Maintain Don’t Gain” for the YMCA. It was a huge hit. A few months later, she accepted a position as the wellness center manager for Mercy Hospital Wellness Center in Minnesota.

4. Work on your people skills.

As a wellness coordinator, you need strong people skills. This means being an empathic listener, strong communicator, effective promoter, and inspiring leader. It’s okay if you weren’t born with these skills. In fact, most leaders weren’t. Just plan on actively honing them before becoming a wellness coordinator.

Islo says, “I always encourage budding wellness professionals to strengthen their interpersonal and leadership skills, especially in areas such as meeting facilitation, conflict resolution, and motivational interviewing.”

So, how can you hone all of these “people” skills? A health and wellness management degree can help you with this, too. The University of Wisconsin program was designed for working adults who might need to polish the soft skills mentioned above. That’s why the bachelor’s curriculum and master’s curriculum incorporate interpersonal skill-building courses, including:

Leadership and Change Management in Health
Persuasion Skills for Wellness Managers
Behavior and Development in Organizations

5. Wear your passion on your sleeve.

Most health and wellness professionals and students say they are passionate about living well in their personal lives. They are avid bikers, weight lifters, yogis, or nutrition buffs.

Grad Cynthia Okeleye, on her gateway to a wellness career: “I am really into strength training. I notice women don’t really lift weights at the gym. I enjoy competing with the guys because they don’t expect to see a female lifting!”

You don’t have to be perfect, but be aware that wellness coordinators often serve as role models for their coworkers. People can feel your passion—and they will gravitate toward it.

6. Earn a wellness certification.

This one is optional for an entry-level wellness professional, but keep wellness certifications in mind. It could greatly benefit your career, especially if you are aiming for a very specific wellness position.

For example, UW grad Kris Greener has pursued two certifications—a health coaching certificate and Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)—in preparation for a career in community health promotion.

“To maintain credibility as a health and wellness manager, you need education and credentials,” Pereira da Silva says. “I have many certifications in both fitness and nutrition, including the CHES credential.”

7. Join an association.

Getting involved with an association is a smart move for any wellness professional. Pereira da Silva is a member of many organizations and also speaks at the national level.

Islo says, “Through professional associations, I was able to pursue training and development. I also served on a volunteer board of directors that provided important experience in dealing with management issues that I would not have been exposed to.”

Here is a list of wellness associations, recommended by Islo:

Wellness Council of America (WELCOA)
Wellness Council of Wisconsin (or the local wellness organization in your area)
National Wellness Institute
Art & Science of Health Promotion Institute
Health Enhancement Research Organization
Take the Next Step

Ready to explore an online Health and Wellness Management master’s or bachelor’s degree? Start here: hwm.wisconsin.edu.

You can make the jump to health and wellness. And we can help. If you have questions about a wellness career or the UW degree program, an enrollment adviser would love to help. Call 1-877-895-3276 or email learn@uwex.edu.

Previously published on Feb. 12, 2015 in Experience UW Health and Wellness Management
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Health and Wellness Gave Her a New Beginning, and Now, a Career in Corporate Wellness

Mom. Wife. Personal Trainer. Marathon Runner. Fitness & Health Advocate.

After reading Jessica Waytashek’s ten-word Twitter description, it’s hard to believe that she could fit anything more into her busy life. But she’s also a student in the University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program, set to earn her bachelor’s degree this spring.

What’s even more impressive is that Jessica has already landed a job as the health and wellness coordinator for Mills Fleet Farm. She was originally hired as a benefits specialist, but the company created a new position for her last May after considering her interests and soon-to-be degree. At the moment, she is designing a corporate wellness program, which includes health risk assessments and biometric screenings.

Jessica loves it.

“If you are looking for a career that will make a difference in people’s lives, choose health and wellness. The University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program is awesome—I would recommend it to anyone.”

Healthy beginnings
Jessica was always interested in fitness, and in troubled times, found that jogging relieved the stress she was feeling. “You don’t realize what exercise can do for you until you try it,” she says. “Now I run with my family and do training on the side.”

“If you are looking for a career that will make a difference in people’s lives, choose health and wellness.”

Two years ago, she became a personal trainer. She runs marathons—so far ten half and two full ones—and starting this spring, will pace marathons for the Minnesota Pacers team. She is a busy woman. Together with her husband, she raises three boys, ages 16, 10, and 3.

An early career in logistics and inventory management showed her that business management was not for her. It left her feeling unfulfilled. That’s when she started a running club at work, which interested some of her coworkers. The company she worked for didn’t offer a corporate wellness program, “so essentially I ran one from my desk in my spare time.”

Jessica did some research about health and wellness professionals, and explored educational opportunities in the field. “I found that the job requirements matched the competencies taught in the UW Health and Wellness Management program.”

The program was exactly what she was looking for.

Online, but not alone
Jessica says she would not have been able to earn the degree she wanted in Brainerd, Minnesota. No brick-and-mortar schools in the area offered a health and wellness program, and moving to the Twin Cities was out of the question. With strong commitments to both work and family, the big draw of the UW Health and Wellness Management program was that it is completely online.

For Jessica, two things stand out as her favorite parts of the UW program.

“I found that the job requirements matched the competencies taught in the UW Health and Wellness Management program.”

“I can study at night, when I have time during the day, or on weekends.”

Assignments, like the instruction, are online. Some are essays, some are multiple choice, and some are group presentations. Though they may seem odd in an online program, group projects are the most helpful assignments, Jessica says.

In an upper-level course called Employee Health and Well-Being, Jessica and her group created a wellness program proposal. “It really highlighted some of the struggles we could face in the workplace—coordinating schedules, agreeing on the content and design, and sharing responsibilities.”

One is the learning management system, called Desire 2 Learn (D2L), where students find assignments, exams, and all other course information. “Its up-to-date calendars help me stay organized.”

But what Jessica likes best is her instructors’ real-world knowledge and expertise in health and wellness. Sometimes the highly credentialed instructors have students discuss current articles or papers so they can analyze real-life scenarios. Jessica says everything she learns is current and applicable to managing a corporate wellness program. She enjoys the interactions she has with faculty, as well as their dedication and responsiveness. “I emailed an instructor on Thanksgiving, and he replied to me that day.”

Building a corporate wellness program
The wellness program at Mills Fleet Farm is still in its early stages. Employees can participate in health events to earn a discount on their health insurance. Jessica plans wellness challenges to keep them engaged, with incentives such as free Fitbit activity trackers.

“You don’t realize what exercise can do for you until you try it.”

Getting people to join and stay engaged can be tough. One of the most useful things she has learned in the UW Health and Wellness Management program is about behavior change.

“I’m reaching out to all employees—not just the healthiest ones who have the most interest. Not everyone is receptive to exercise or weight loss. Understanding behavior change and people’s mentalities helps me cater the program to every person, no matter what stage they are at.”

One woman in the program has lost 37 pounds. For her, the program provides focus and accountability, especially when logging meals. “Having someone there for encouragement has helped her make positive changes in her life,” says Jessica.

Seeing these small but important victories is what Jessica loves. To her, building a corporate wellness program is not just a job—it’s a passion.

To find out more about how you can pursue your dream job, visit the UW Health and Wellness Management website at hwm.wisconsin.edu.

Previously published on Feb. 12, 2015 in Experience UW Health and Wellness Management
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Join Dr. David Chenoweth for this live session where he answers questions posed by participants in the Dynamics of Worksite Wellness Evaluation & ROI MOOC. 
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It’s all about prevention. At least that’s the trend in healthcare. With the rise of employee wellness programs, one area that has seen exciting growth is preventive medicine.
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