Transforming Health in Higher Education

The Barnes Center at The Arch positions Syracuse University as a leader in integrated health and wellness. Services that nurture mind, body and spirit are united under one roof to care for and empower the whole student.

Students enjoying smoothies at Otto's Juice Box
In a campuswide student naming contest, the smoothie bar at the Barnes Center became Otto’s Juice Box. Now, Otto’s Juice Box has become a central meeting spot on campus for students to hang out and grab a smoothie before or after a workout, health appointment or class.

We’ve heard about the rock wall and the Walters Pet Therapy Room, the Prettyman Spa Pool and the smoothies, but behind the exciting, eye-catching initiatives in the Barnes Center at The Arch is a model that changes the fundamental approach to student health and wellness on college campuses. Health care, counseling, health promotion and recreation services moved into this new space as one entity, not just physically but operationally. And Syracuse University is the first to do it.

First in the U.S.

“The level of integration that we’re building is totally unique,” says Cory Wallack, executive director of student health and wellness. “As people become more accepting of the idea that wellness includes mind, body and activity, there are campuses across the country that are bringing health and counseling together the way that we are. There’s nobody I’m aware of who’s bringing health, counseling, health promotion and recreation together.”

Students meditating
Health and wellness is a multifaceted journey, a unique and ever-evolving experience for each individual. Given mindfulness is a key part of this journey, the Barnes Center offers a variety of tools and resources to practice mindfulness, including meditation.

The University’s evidence-based integration includes recreation in its health and wellness services and reflects the wellness philosophy that the Barnes Center adopts. The Barnes Center approaches health and wellness holistically, encompassing mind, body, spirit and community. The services and resources are organized and provided through a Stepped Care Model, placing individual student needs at the forefront.

For example, a student with mild to moderate depression and anxiety will have a holistic approach to their care that may include recreation. “Research shows us that exercise can have a positive effect for individuals with mild to moderate depression,” says Wallack. “Through our integrated approach, when a counselor sees a student with symptoms of mild to moderate depression, they not only provide the mental health services needed but can connect the student to personal training sessions and refer them to the many drop-in fitness classes based on their interests.”

This is just one example of how the integration of health and wellness delivers a more holistic approach to each student by giving staff more tools in their toolbox.

Meeting Students Where They Are

A building with health and wellness in the same space helps to destigmatize health and wellness resources; a student could be entering to use one of many resources, grab a smoothie or hang out in the lounge areas.

Student drawing in the mindspa
Each Crowley Family MindSpa room is filled with tools to help students relax in a private space. Students can spend time with a light therapy box, practice meditation, utilize biofeedback tools, get a chair massage and more.

“Now you can de-stress at counseling, exercise at recreation, relax in the spa pool, sit in the massage chairs in the Crowley Family MindSpa and play with the therapy dogs all in the name of health… It’s just all here,” says Julia Cutler ’21, peer educator and team leader in the Barnes Center.

On the entry floor of the Barnes Center, triage nurses await students who enter the space without an appointment. Those students will be assessed, just as the ones with appointments have been, and ultimately it will be determined what level of care the student needs within the Stepped Care Model.

Technology is the catalyst for the first step, providing students the opportunity to self-direct care through the Sanvello mobile app and the Barnes Center website. Steps increase as the student seeks additional resources, such as staff interactions. The final step hosts crisis response resources. The Stepped Care Model is not linear; students may enter any step at any time and can transition as needed.

Through a back-end integrated system between all areas of health and wellness in the Barnes Center, licensed staff members are able to refer students to one another so that students will get the holistic intervention that is necessary to meet their unique needs.

“The Stepped Care Model and integrated care are important because they focus on the person as a whole and not just as parts,” says Cutler.

Transformed Student Experience

The impact of integrated health and wellness transcends the taking of a temperature. When a full mind, body, spirit and community approach is taken, “you have a chance to change lifelong habits to make the quality of life better,” says Ben Domingo, director of health care in the Barnes Center.

By approaching student wellness holistically, the Barnes Center becomes a key contributor to student success during students’ time at Syracuse University and beyond. Improving quality of life ultimately allows students the freedom to be present in the classroom, apply their learnings and pursue their passions.

“The Barnes Center at The Arch allows students to focus on their overall well-being while on campus and beyond, allowing them to improve themselves through wellness and academically,” says Mackenzie Mertikas ’20, Student Association president. “And when they leave here, they carry those learnings with them.”

Joyce LaLonde

This story was published on .


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